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  • ACRI

Corona and Human Rights: FAQ

© Julia Sudnitskaya |

The struggle against COVID-19 is raising a number of questions relating to human rights. Actions to halt the spread of the pandemic are essential in order to protect human health and the universal right to health and life. However, drastic steps to restrict movement, prevent gatherings, restrict flights and entry to Israel, shut down places of education and work – particularly if they last more than a few weeks – seriously damage citizens’ rights.

Even in a state of emergency, human rights violations must be proportionate. We urge the government to consider carefully and in advance the human rights dimension of any steps it takes.

This page seeks to answer the main questions concerning human rights during the COVID-19 crisis. Click here for an update on our contacts with the authorities about issues relating to the crisis.

Can the authorities force me to go into isolation in my own home?

Yes. Section 20 of the Public Health Order grants the Ministry of Health extensive powers to take steps to prevent the spread of a dangerous infectious disease, including the isolation of a person carrying or suspected of carrying the disease. After the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus in Israel, the Ministry of Health issued an order requiring patients and people in high-risk groups to isolate themselves. This order is being updated every few days according to the latest decisions.

At present, the requirement is to self-isolate for 14 days. The obligation to self-isolate is absolute, and the order does not include any exceptions or restrictions (with the sole exception of participation in elections). Accordingly, people in self-isolation must not leave their home for any purpose, including to go shopping, engage in sports, or take their dog for a walk. Any person obliged to self-isolate must find solutions to meet these needs.

Can I be forced to go into hospital because of COVID-19?

Yes. In accordance with its authorities under the Public Health Order, the Ministry of Health has issued an order empowering a specialist physician to oblige a person to remain under isolation in hospital if they are suspected of carrying the COVID-19 virus. The order also empowers the head of the Public Health Services in the Ministry of Health, or his deputy, as well as the District Physician or his/her deputy, to order a person who is self-isolating at home to enter into isolation in hospital due to suspicion of COVID-19 infection.

A hospital security guard may use reasonable force to hold a person who has received an instruction to remain isolation in hospital and is refusing to comply, pending the arrival of a police officer.

The person who issued the isolation instruction is empowered to order to cessation of isolation when the circumstances requiring isolation have changed.

Can I be punished for breaking isolation?

Yes. Section 218 of the Penal Code prohibits an “act liable to spread disease,” and section 287 of the Code prohibits the “violation of a legal instruction.” Disobeying an isolation obligation is an offense.

According to the Emergency Regulations of 15 March 2020, the violation of an isolation order or failure to report to the Ministry of Health on self-isolation at home will constitute a criminal offense incurring a penalty of up to six months’ imprisonment or a fine. For violation of isolation, the fine is NIS 5,000; for failure to report – NIS 3,000. The authority to impose the fine rests with a police officer, a civil servant empowered for this purpose, and an inspector of a local authority. For the purpose of enforcing isolation, these officials are empowered to demand that a person identify themselves and to enter a place of residence.

If I have to go into isolation, can my employer dismiss me because I didn’t come to work?

Absolutely not. The order issued by the Ministry of Health prohibits an employer to dismiss a worker who is in isolation. An employer is also prohibited to demand that a worker who is required to isolate come to their place of work, and is also prohibited to allow such a worker to come to the place of work, even if the worker wants to do so.

I live in a senior citizens’ home – are they allowed to forbid me to leave the home and to isolate me from the world against my wishes?

No. So far, no order has been issued requiring elderly people to self-isolate, and such isolation cannot be imposed. We should add that physicians advice people in risk groups, including the elderly, to be particularly strict about social distancing on a voluntary basis.

The Ministry of Welfare has issued guidelines concerning residential facilities, including frameworks for senior citizens and people with disabilities. These guidelines take into account the fact that elderly people are at higher risk of illness due to COVID-19, as well as their concentration in a single place. According to the guidelines, a framework for senior citizens may prevent outside guests from entering, including relatives, with the exception of nursing workers living with the resident. A meeting between a resident and a relative will be possible outside the facilities, with the exception of residents who cannot leave the facility, such as nursing patients. In this instance, guests will be permitted to enter under various restrictions.

Out of respect for the privacy of elderly people, the implementation of the visiting rules should be reasonable and consistent with the Ministry of Welfare guidelines.

Can the authorities oblige me to provide information about all the places I visited, and can they publish this information?

Yes. The Public Health Order empowers the Minister of Health to require the provision of information needed to halt the spread of an epidemic, i.e. for the purpose of clarifying the source of the infection (epidemiological investigation). However, the right to privacy is a constitutional right, and obliging a person to provide personal information, including the places they visited and the people they met, seriously violates privacy.

Accordingly, people should be asked to provide the information voluntarily. The publication of the information should be in a manner that serves the purpose of protecting public health, and no more than this. The need for publication must be considered in each instance, and it must be ensured that details allowing the identification of the patient are not published. When the information leads clearly to the identification of the individual, consideration should be given to informing people who might require the information personally, instead of public release.

Are the Israel Security Agency or the police empowered to monitor the whereabouts of COVID-19 patients or people in isolation as part of the struggle to halt the spread of the disease?

On 16 March 2020, emergency regulations were enacted for 3 months empowering an authorized police officer to request location data from communications companies for a patient or a person suspected of being a patient. This authority will enable the police officer to identify the location of a person on a real-time basis. The purpose, presumably, is to notify sick people or people required to enter into isolation following contact with a sick person, and to warn those who were in contact with such a person. The regulations also allow the police to request location data from communications companies for a person who is the subject of a self-isolation order in order to enforce isolation. The data will be received in a random manner, and not in a continuous or ongoing manner.

On 17 March 2020, the government enacted emergency regulations with the approval of the Attorney General. These regulations empower the Israel Security Agency (ISA or “Shabak”) to collect information about citizens, and empower the Ministry of Health to use this information for the purpose of epidemiological investigations. The Ministry of Health may forward to the ISA the name of a diagnosed COVID-19 patient, or a person suspected of carrying the virus, in order to obtain information about their whereabouts over the preceding 14 days and information about people with whom they came into contact. The assumption is that the ISA will collect the location data from cell phones. The ISA will not monitor the content of conversations.

These regulations apply for a period of 14 days. According to the regulations, the information will not be forwarded to any other body and will not be used for purposes other than the epidemiological examination. The ISA will not be in direct contact with patients or individuals required to enter into isolation in light of the investigations. The Ministry of Health may use the data to provide the police with a list of people subject to the obligation to self-isolate. At the end of the period of the regulations, the Ministry of Health will be able to hold the information for 60 days for the purpose of internal debriefing, after which the information will be deleted.

ACRI regards the use of monitoring means against citizens as a very negative act that seriously violates the right to privacy, particularly when applied in a sweeping manner. To date, the impression is that most citizens who have contracted COVID-19 have cooperated willingly with the epidemiological investigations, and that most residents are cooperating with the self-isolation instructions. The government must show a clear and solid interest in order to exercise these means, and must act in a fully transparent manner.

Can someone publish my name as a COVID-19 patient?

No. The Protection of Privacy Law prohibits the publication of a person’s name together with their medical condition. This is why the authorities have given a number to each patient, and are not publishing their names as part of the publication of their epidemiological investigation.

Can I organize a demonstration or take part in a gathering?

Not at the moment. The Ministry of Health has issued an order prohibiting gatherings, and accordingly, in practice, it is restricting the possibility to hold demonstrations. The police is empowered to prevent demonstrations. This constitutes an extremely serious violation of the right to freedom of expression. The police must enforce the provision in an egalitarian manner, regardless of the content of the demonstration.

According to the Emergency Regulations of 15 March 2020, a police officer is empowered to disperse a gathering that is not permitted in accordance with the instructions in an order issued by the Ministry of Health, and it may use reasonable force to do so. Refusal to obey an order to disperse constitutes a criminal offence liable to 6 months’ imprisonment. The police officer is also empowered to impose an administrative fine at the level of NIS 5,000.

I have a court hearing scheduled – has it been cancelled?

The Justice Minister recently signed a regulation expanding his authority to declare a “special situation” in the court and executor’s system – not only due to the serious disruption of normal life in Israel due to a security situation, but also due to tangible concern for injury to public health. The minister subsequently published an order restricting the activities of the courts in light of the spread of COVID-19 and the instructions issued by the Ministry of Health to prevent gatherings. As of now, the order is valid through 22 March 2020.

The Courts Administration has detailed which proceedings will take place even in the state of emergency:

Hearing that will take place at the ordinary courts (hebrew)

Hearings that will take place at the Labor Courts (hebrew)

Any hearing that does not appear on these lists will not take place.

ACRI believes that the authority to freeze the activities of the legal system must be established in legislation, and not by the Justice Minister. Pending such legislation, the authority rests with the presidents of the courts. This is important due to the damage to the right of access to the courts and the damage to the independence of the judicial branch.

How does the situation influence the rights of prisoners and detainees to visits and to consultations with their attorneys?

In accordance with the Emergency Regulations (Prevention of Entry of Visitors and Attorneys to Places of Detention and Prisons), all visits to prisons by relatives and attorneys have been halted.

Instead of face-to-face consultation with an attorney, it has been determined that prisoners and detainees will be able to speak on the telephone to their attorney on their own and in conditions of confidentiality.

Security prisoners who have been sentenced may only speak to an attorney if a hearing is due to be held in their case, and may only make two calls – one before the hearing and the other after.

Has a state of emergency been declared, and can my rights be restricted in emergency regulations?

A state of emergency has not been declared due to the COVID-19 outbreak, since Israel is in any case in a permanent state of emergency. A state of emergency was declared when Israel was established and has been extended every year by the Knesset. In accordance with the declaration of a state of emergency, the government is empowered to issue emergency regulations without the need to secure the approval of the Knesset.

On 15 March 2020, the government enacted emergency regulations on four issues:

Prevention of Entry of Visitors and Attorneys to Places of Detention and Prisons (hebrew)

Hearings in Detentions (hebrew)

Enforcement of the Public Health Order (New Corona Virus) (Home Isolation and Sundry Provisions) (hebrew)

Work Service in a State of Emergency (hebrew)

A protracted state of emergency is an abnormal situation in a democracy. A petition submitted by ACRI led to the substantial restriction of laws based on the declaration, in an attempt to lead to the cancelling of the state of emergency, but it has not been cancelled to date. The Supreme Court has ruled that emergency regulations may only be issued when there is a state of emergency that prevents the securing of approval from the Knesset, or when there is an urgent need to eliminate a danger. We urge the government to bring these regulations before the Knesset (which is convening today) immediately for approval, and to act from this point forth with the approval of the Knesset.

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