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Israel: Law Granting Government Special Authorities to Combat Novel Coronavirus Adopted

(July 29, 2020) On July 23, 2020, the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) passed the Special Authorities to Combat the Novel Coronavirus (Temporary Provision) Law, 5780-2020. The law will remain in effect until June 30, 2021. (Special Authorities Law § 50.)

Declaration of State of Emergency due to the Novel Coronavirus

The law authorizes the government to declare a state of emergency when it is “convinced that [there exists] a real risk that the coronavirus will spread widely and pose significant harm to public health.” Issuing a declaration of a state of emergency requires that the position of the minister of health and a “professional opinion” from the Ministry of Health on the matter be submitted to the government, but it does not depend on preapproval by the Knesset. (§ 2(a).)

Under the new law, the declaration of a state of emergency takes effect upon its publication by the government in the official gazette and may remain in force for the period specified, but no later than 45 days from the date of issue. The period in which a declaration is in effect may periodically be extended with the approval of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee (KCLJC) for 60 days for each extension. (§ 2(d)(1–2).) The declaration may be voided by the government when it concludes that the circumstances necessitating the declaration no longer exist, or by a decision of the Knesset plenum. The cancellation of the state of emergency must be published in the official gazette, at which time the cancellation takes effect. (§ 3(b).)

The law provides that on the day of its publication, July 23, 2020, “this law will be viewed as declaring a state of emergency due to the coronavirus under section 2 (a), which is valid for 45 days.” (§ 51.)

Issuing Emergency Regulations and Limited Parliamentary Overview

During the period of the state of emergency as defined by the declaration, the government is authorized to issue regulations to stop the spread of the virus to protect vulnerable population groups. (§ 4(a).) The regulations generally go into effect 24 hours after their issue, unless opposed by the KCLJC. (§§ 1 & 4(d)(1).)  “In ‘urgent cases,’ [however,] the government can skip those 24 hours and decide that the regulations will immediately go into effect.” (§ 4(d)(3).)

The KCLJC may conduct hearings to retroactively approve or reject the regulations after they have gone into effect. If no decision has been reached within the time limits provided under the law, the regulations will be brought for approval by the Knesset plenum. The regulations will expire if the plenum decides not to approve them or is unable to reach a decision on the matter. (§ (4(2)(b–d).) Commentators have opined that the approval of the regulations post facto by the plenum is meaningless as “[t]he Knesset plenum … is not capable of holding a discussion on a detailed level and is essentially a rubber stamp for the coalition [government].”

Restrictions under the Regulations

During a declared state of emergency, the government may issue restrictions on activities in a person’s “private sphere” as well as in the “public sphere.” (§§ 6–7.) The restrictions, thus, may apply to an individual’s private residence or private vehicle, as well as to public spaces, including businesses, workplaces, events, educational institutions, and public transportation. (§§ 6–12.) Restrictions may be imposed on transportation (§ 12) and access to venues, and may introduce requirements regarding social distancing, types of activities, monitoring symptoms, ensuring hygiene, etc. (§ 8). Limitations on school activities and openings may also be imposed during the emergency period. (§ 10.) Approval of regulations applicable to schools, “welfare activities” (e.g., activities conducted in centers for populations with special needs and for children and youth at risk), and transportation will rest with the relevant Knesset committee as defined under the law. (§ 1.)

Restricted Areas

A committee of ministers appointed by the government may declare an area a “restricted area” if

  • the coronavirus has spread widely in a particular area of Israel and the level of morbidity in that area is high in relation to the level of general morbidity in Israel, and
  • the ministerial committee is convinced, after considering alternative courses of action, that to prevent the continued spread of the virus inside or outside the area, it is necessary to limit entrance to it or exit from it; restrict persons residing in it from exiting their places of residence; or limit activity or gatherings within it. (§ 13(a).)

A declaration of a restricted area must be published in the official gazette. The declaration expires within seven days of its publication but can be extended for five-day periods, the aggregate of which cannot exceed 21 days. The declaration may also be extended by the relevant Knesset committee for periods of 14 days, each not exceeding the duration of the declaration of emergency. (§ 13(g).) Restrictions on the exit of a person residing in a restricted area will not apply under specified conditions, including exiting to obtain medical treatment that cannot be provided in the restricted area; to attend a legal proceeding to which that person is a party, has status, or must be present; or to transfer a minor whose parents live separately to the parent living outside the restricted area. Medical or other essential personnel are also exempted from the exit restrictions. (§ 15.) The exit of a person from a restricted area cannot be prohibited if it is intended to accomplish one of the defined objectives enumerated under the law, including the obtaining of medical treatment; participation in a demonstration; and participation of a first-degree relative in a funeral, wedding, or other listed religious ceremonies. (§ 16.)

Enforcement

Violation of regulations imposed during the state of emergency may result in criminal or administrative fines as prescribed by the law. (§§ 29–30.) The law does not generally apply to the president of the state, official buildings of the Knesset, the state comptroller’s office, and courts and tribunals. It similarly does not apply to the Israel Defense Force, the Israel police, the Prison Authority, and other institutions specified by the law. (§ 44.)

Updated August 14, 2020