Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has reintroduced a controversial system of surveillance of Israelis amid a surge in cases of coronavirus after health leaders warned that complacency was causing a second spike.
Lawmakers approved the reinstatement of the tracking of Israeli mobile phones administered by the country’s internal intelligence organisation Shin Bet after the easing of lockdown restrictions four weeks ago resulted in more infections.
The remote tracking system, which uses phones’ Bluetooth technology, helps authorities identify both clusters and individuals who have been in contact with people who later test positive for Covid-19.
Civil liberties groups have criticised it as a form of mandatory state surveillance, with no option to opt-out, but lawmakers say it is necessary, criticising Israelis who flout the guidelines on social distancing and face masks.
On Wednesday there were more than 530 new infections reported, representing the highest daily total in two months. Particular hotspots have been identified, including tourist areas such as Tel Aviv and the resort of Tiberias.
More than 300 Israelis have died from Covid-19 and up to 50 are in a serious condition in hospital, with 29 on ventilators, after lockdown restrictions were eased in time for the Shavuot holiday.
Authorities this week said that many of those newly-infected were people aged 40 or under, who have a far better survival rate, which explains why the recent death-toll is not comparable to that seen in the first spike in March and April.
Meanwhile the Israeli government said it was now working with the United Arab Emirates to tackle the pandemic at a regional level, in a further sign of cooperation between the Jewish state and Gulf Arab countries.