On Thursday evening, the Health Ministry disclosed that the doctor attending a conference last week in London has been confirmed as the third case of the Omicron variant in the country. This means that some other 30 patients are probably carriers of the new variant. The third carrier was not named, but his details are the same as the cardiologist at Sheba Medical Center Dr. Elad Maor, who had tested positive for the variant earlier this week. The ministry said that the confirmed third case had recently returned to Israel from the UK and had received all three doses of the vaccine.
The two cases previously identified cases included a tourist who had come from Malawi and an Israeli who had returned recently from South Africa. The former had been inoculated with the AstraZeneca Vaccine for COVID-19, while the latter had received three shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Furthermore, the Health Ministry disclosed on Thursday that it was checking 30 more cases of suspected exposure to the variant, but the samples hadn’t been sequenced yet for verifying if it was indeed the Omicron variant. It is thought that PCR tests can identify the cases of Omicron by flagging the presence of a particular gene.
However, Israeli health officials are relying on gene sequencing for identifying the strain of the coronavirus that the patient is infected with and this takes a few days to complete. The Health Ministry said that of the 30 cases, 11 people were those who had recently come from overseas or had had contact with people returning from abroad. But they added that 19 of these people had had no exposure to anyone who had been abroad. It further mentioned that only six people who were suspected had recovered from the coronavirus in the last six months or were vaccinated, while the other 24 were ‘unprotected’.
On Wednesday, Maor had spoken to media outlets and said that he suspected he was suffering from Omicron that he might have contracted in London while attending a medical conference. This raised concerns that the variant may possibly be more widespread in the UK than known. The doctor said that this meant it had occurred almost 10 days, which was too early for the variant to have been present. He disclosed that he returned to Israel on November 23rd and had tested negative, but once he began experiencing mild symptoms, his test came positive four days later.
He stated that this meant that he had either gotten infected at the airport, or at the last day of the meeting. On Tuesday, Sheba hospital had announced that a second doctor was also discovered to have the variant. Maor said that he had shared a car ride with a 70-year-old colleague, who had also tested positive. But, around 50 people that Maor had contact with in some way had tested negative. He said that he believes the transmissibility of this particular variant is extremely different from what is known about the Delta variant, which had proven to be highly transmissible.