On Monday, the Health Ministry announced that three passengers arriving at the Ben Gurion Airport in Israel have tested positive for the new Omicron subvariant, which has been dubbed BA.4. One of the infected individuals had come from South Africa, where this new subvariant is spreading currently, and the other two people had come from Italy and Singapore. According to the Health Ministry, they did not have any further information to share about the new subvariant at this time. However, concerns about it were downplayed by Nitzan Horowitz, the Israeli Health Minister.
He said that they had identified a number of cases while conducting tests at the Ben Gurion Airport. But, he said that they did not have any details regarding its characteristics or its dangerousness. He went on to say that they were keeping track of this development and there was no reason for concern for now. He asserted that there are still areas where the COVID-19 vaccine has not reached as yet. The Health Minister stated that they had not gotten rid of the virus as yet and said that they would take any new measures, if required. He added that intimidating the public was not necessary at this time.
The World Health Organization had stated earlier this month that scientists in South Africa and Botswana had detected two new subvariants of Omicron, which were dubbed BA.4 and BA.5. However, the WHO had stated that they were unsure if these two new variants were more dangerous or transmissible than the previous versions of the strain that had been identified. According to WHO, there was no evidence as yet to indicate that the new subvariants were spreading any differently than the previous subvariants, or even the original Omicron strain. As far as Israel is concerned, the country lifted its indoor mask mandate on Saturday.
It was one of the few coronavirus restrictions that were still in place in Israel, but was finally lifted after two years. The decision to remove this particular restriction had come after there was a fall in the number of serious cases, new ones, deaths as well as overall morbidity associated with COVID-19 week by week in the country. However, while the mask mandate may have been lifted, people are still required to wear them in some places, like hospitals, senior care facilities and during air travel.
As a matter of fact, there had also been talk about lifting the requirement of testing of passengers upon their arrival at the Ben Gurion Airport. The former COVID czar of Israel had said that it was no longer necessary to test travelers, as morbidity had declined significantly. Media reports had indicated that the government had been considering the same. But, in light of the discovery of the new variant, the chances of this requirement being lifted are low. Until more research has been conducted into the two new subvariants of Omicron, it is not possible to come to any conclusions. There are some countries like China that are currently dealing with a resurgence in cases.