On Tuesday, the ‘coronavirus law’ was passed by the Knesset, which brought an end to the state of emergency, which has been in place in Israel for most of the pandemic’s duration. It required legislative supervision over the restrictions that the government was imposing because of COVID-19. From February 1st, the new law will go into effect and will be applicable till the end of 2022. If coronavirus-related restrictions need to be imposed by the cabinet during this time period, they would have to classify this situation in one of two ways; a ‘special health situation’, or a state of emergency.
While the government will be able to introduce rules in either situation, but only a state of emergency would permit them to implement more serious rules. Ultimately, the Knesset would be required to sign off on the decisions made in either situation. The previous government had passed the coronavirus law in July 2020 and it had not required any such differentiation. The law had been criticized for giving too much leeway to the cabinet for instituting sweeping restrictions and lockdowns that restricted the freedom of movement. On Tuesday, some of this criticism was brought up once more and opposition lawmakers argued that similar legislation had been passed by the coalition less than two years ago that had been vehemently opposed by the members when the roles were switched.
According to the new law, the two national health conditions need approval from the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee of the Knesset, or the whole plenum, within seven days. If they don’t do so, the validity of the declaration of the government will expire. The government will only be permitted to declare a special health situation if the ministers are sure that the public health is at risk because of the virus’s ongoing wave. A state of emergency can only be declared if ministers are convinced that morbidity is on the rise, or the virus has spread enough to destabilize the whole public health system.
No matter which scenario, the government will need the opinion of the health minister and other professional staff in their office. The special health situation will be applicable for 90 days and the state of emergency would last for 45 days. In the latter situation, the government will be able to impose lockdowns, impose restrictions on traveling abroad and ask schools to move classes online. Under both circumstances, there will be no change in the right to protest as opposed to the previous law that had permitted imposing limits on any such gatherings during the lockdown.
A compromise made with opposition lawmakers indicates that there will not be any restrictions on movements for prayer in any national health condition. Any restrictions that have to be implemented in a special health situation have to be put forward to the Constitution Committee panel about five days before the government wishes to implement them in order to get approval. A state of emergency would not require the approval of the Constitution Committee, but the panel would be asked to ratify 48 hours after the fact.