As the mercury drops, new strains of COVID-19 are spreading in a rather ominous echo of winters’ past. It has been less than a year that the world finally removed masks require due to the Omicron variant.
The Omicron variant had been documented by the World Health Organization on November 24th, 2021 and within weeks, it infected numbers larger than any other strain.
Past and present
A year before that, it was the Alpha variant that was also called the UK variant, which had gripped most of the norther hemisphere.
For Israel, this variant had brought about the third lockdown all over the country. Today, it is the descendants of the Omicron variant that have begun to spread.
XBB is a new one that appears to be making inroads in a number of Asian countries, while the BQ.1 is rising in Africa, North America, Europe and Israel.
One-third of cases in America are due to the BQ.1 variant, while 17% of the cases reported in Israel are connected to this variant.
A coronavirus adviser to the government and top epidemiologist, Prof. Nadav Davidovitch said that they expect this variant to begin spreading quickly.
He added that this should be a cause for concern and they should promptly take precautions and begin vaccinations.
He also went on to say that experts still do not understand some important facts associated with the BQ.1 variants, like their capability of dodging immunity, the speed of spreading and the severity of illness.
However, he added that the top doctors and the government had already been discussing the potential variants to emerge in winter weeks ago.
A Ben Gurion University professor, Davidovitch said that they had had roundtables with the Home Front Command and all ministries.
He stated that they did not know how the variants would affect the case numbers, but they were aware that the health system is burdened every winter because of upper respiratory illnesses.
He stated that they had considered scenarios involving COVID, like one that included a variant different from Omicron and one that was more severe than Omicron, such as Delta.
It is unlikely that there will be restrictions in Israel even if there is widespread infection because of a variant that results in a low number of serious cases and hospitalizations like Omicron.
Davidovitch said that if there are severe outcomes due to the variant, then there may be some surveillance in Israel and large gatherings could be restricted.
It would mean that coronavirus rules would once more impact the public, but Davidovitch said that even if the variant is severe, it is highly unlikely that restrictions would get as severe as they did in the early days.
This will be third winter with the pandemic and Israel has always seen a surge in infections in the season in the last two years.
Late January and early February of this year saw the number of people hospitalized due to serious illness reach its peak. This also occurred in the case of daily deaths.