On Friday, the Health Ministry announced that Israel has detected its first case of the highly-mutated, new variant of the coronavirus that was first seen in South Africa. The individual was identified as an Israeli who had come from Malwai. According to the ministry, they suspected two others of also being infected with this new strain and they are waiting for the final test results. The scientific name of the new strain is B.1.1.529. The ministry also disclosed that all three individuals had been vaccinated and added that they were still verifying their inoculation details.
After the announcement, the Prime Minister of Israel, Naftali Bennett said that he would conduct a discussion with the Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz as well as other experts on Friday afternoon. The statement disclosed that the premier had been updated about the new strain detected in the country during the night and he ordered the government to buy PCR kits that would help them in better detecting the new strain. The developments occurred despite making all possible efforts of preventing the strain from reaching the country. Bennett had ordered Thursday night for a number of countries in Southern Africa to be put on the ‘red’ list, thereby restricting entry from them.
Countries from which foreigners were banned from coming into Israel included Namibia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and South Africa. For a few weeks, this list had remained empty because no country had met the ‘red’ criteria of the Health Ministry. Israelis returning from any of these countries that are now categorized as ‘red’, including those who are fully vaccinated, will have to stay in isolation at a state-run hotel for about a week and will only be released after they have received two negative PCR test results. Those who refuse to get tested will be required to stay in isolation for two weeks at a state-run quarantine hotel.
Bennett also stated that they needed to do an immediate evaluation of the decision of stopping flight from these ‘red’ countries to Israel as well as vice versa, or to come up with a different plan to prevent the new variant from spreading in the country. On Thursday, scientists in South Africa disclosed that a new COVID-19 variant had been detected that was responsible for the ‘exponential’ surge in infections and it had a ‘high number of mutations’. There has been a tenfold increase in the number of daily infections in the hardest-hit country in Africa since the beginning of the month.
The Health Ministry data in Israel on Thursday indicated that 543 people had tested positive for the virus the day before and this number was 0.70% of the total number of tests conducted. A total of 163 people were hospitalized and 120 of these were in serious condition. According to the data, 85% of the serious cases are found in individuals who have not been vaccinated. On Wednesday, Health Ministry officials warned the lawmakers that new virus restrictions may be required if the daily number of cases crosses the 1,000 threshold.