Dozens of Israeli travelers who landed at Ben-Gurion Airport on an EasyJet flight from London on Sunday afternoon were escorted by police to quarantine hotels upon arrival, in line with a coronavirus cabinet decision made while they were in the air.
The move came after the coronavirus cabinet decided that all Israelis returning from the United Kingdom, Denmark and South Africa will be obliged to enter quarantine at state-run hotels effective immediately as a precautionary measure to curb the spread of a new COVID-19 strain.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told ministers more countries will be added to the three already named.
The decision was made on the recommendation of coronavirus czar Prof. Nachman Ash, who even asked to shutter Ben-Gurion Airport entirely, effectively cutting Israel off from the rest of the world.
Ash also urged to conduct coronavirus testing on travelers from the UK, Denmark and South Africa and perform genetic sequencing on their tests to examine whether the passengers have contracted the new strain.
The 80 or so Israelis on the flight that landed at around 2:20pm and another 40 who arrived about half an hour later were informed in advance that they might be forced into isolation.
Foreign nationals who purchased tickets for the flights were not allowed to board the two planes.
During the cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged ministers to act swiftly and decisively and ground all flights to and from Israel to prevent the spread of the mutated pathogen in Israel.
Netanyahu told the meeting that, "we should close [to] the whole world immediately and let only businesspeople move about, in line with regulations. This is a small price in the event that the vaccine does not work on the mutation."
He then turned to the representatives of the National Security Council and asked: "What prevents us from halting flights from all over the world?"
The deputy of the National Security Council Eiutan Ben-David replied: "Halting flights is a decision of the Transportation Ministry."
Netanyahu added: "This is an extreme step, but if there is [an appearance of the mutated virus in Israel] it will be hard. There is no legal impediment to closing the skies save for the return of Israelis abroad."
The Transportation Ministry must authorize such a drastic move; however, the Minister Miri Regev objected to the step, saying there was no reason to ground all flights.
First published: 15:06, 12.20.20