Prime Minister Benjamin lashed out at officials for keeping "secret" reports of a coronavirus mutation spreading in the UK, as ministers dealing with the pandemic met Sunday to mull tighter measures to counter Israel's growing infection rate.
Deputy National Security Council chief Eitan Ben-David told the meeting that, "the issue of the mutation has been known for a week, from information not based in the media."
Netanyahu angrily replied: "I did not know."
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said he had known about the mutation since Saturday due to "a kind of leak from friendly sources."
He said that he had been asked to keep the matter secret but that the National Security Council had been updated the same day.
"What do you mean secret?" Netanyahu hit back. "Such a thing cannot be kept secret."
Both Netanyahu and Edelstein on Saturday night received the Pfizer vaccination against the coronavirus.
The head of Public Health Services at the Health Ministry, Dr. Sharon Elrai-Price, told the meeting that Israel had also received an update from the World Health Organization regarding the new mutation.
"This virus is more contagious," she said. "It is not clear what the effect of this virus is on the vaccine; we only have partial information."
Coronavirus czar Prof. Nachman Ash recommended closing Israel's international airport, a move backed by the prime minister.
"Our objective [is] to immediately close [flights from] all countries. All flights from all over the world must be stopped," Netanyahu said.
Ash also advised that until the skies are indeed closed, all people entering from the UK, South Africa and Denmark should be placed in isolation and undergo coronavirus testing that includes genetic sequencing to identify whether they have been infected with the new mutation.
Ministers voted in favor of mandatory isolation in hotels for people returning from those countries, to go into effect on that day.
The cabinet also decided that the need to isolate in hotels would also apply to some 120 passengers who were on flights to Israel from the UK as the meeting was taking place.
The passengers, who were all Israeli, had been updated prior to take-off that they may have to isolate in hotels after landing. Dozens of tourists and foreign passport holders were not allowed to board those flights.
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?"
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."
Transportation Minister Miri Regev expressed her opposition to the move, however, saying that "there is no reason to close the skies."