Four Cases of the South African Coronavirus Strain Found in Israel

Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati
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A coronavirus ward in Ichilov hospital, Tel Aviv, January 7, 2021.
A coronavirus ward in Ichilov hospital, Tel Aviv, January 7, 2021.Credit: Hadas Parush
Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati

Israel's Health Ministry announced Saturday that it had identified four cases of the South African coronavirus variant in Israel. 

They were found among 15 samples that were sent to the ministry's central virus lab for rapid sequencing.

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The four cases come from two different chains of infection, the ministry said: one from a person who returned to Israel from South Africa, and another from a family that was infected by someone who returned from the country.

The ministry stressed that the South African mutation, like the U.K. mutation, is more contagious than other strains, but does not seem to cause a more serious illness.

On Thursday, the Israeli government decided to confine into dedicated facilities travellers returning from South Africa and neighboring countries Botswana, Zambia and Lesotho. They will be kept in hotels that were repurposed as government facilities for 14 days, or after testing negative for COVID-19 twice at an interval of nine days. 

Only Israeli citizens and returning residents are currently allowed into the country; all must go into home isolation or test negative twice for the virus. 

On Wednesday, public health chief Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis had expressed concern over a spread of the South African strain in Israel, saying that new research showed that exisiting vaccines may be less effective against it.

"The South African variant is more troublesome because it can cause serious illness among young people," she said. "The effect of the vaccine is not yet clear and there is worrying preliminary research and suspicion that the vaccine is less effective."

A new Pfizer study that was published later in the week confirmed that the company's vaccine would indeed be effective in preventing infections from both the South African and U.K. mutations.

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