Health Ministry Identifies New Indian COVID Strain in Israel

Health Ministry identifies 7 cases of new variant among unvaccinated Israelis who had recently returned from abroad

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The Carmel Market in Tel Aviv last week.
The Carmel Market in Tel Aviv last week.Credit: Hadas Parush

Israel's Health Ministry announced Friday that they have identified an Indian variant of the coronavirus, with seven cases found in Israelis who had recently returned from abroad.

The variant was identified by genetic sequencing of samples taken from the patients, none of whom had been vaccinated against the virus.

It is still unclear whether the coronavirus vaccines protect against this new strain. The Health Ministry is emphasizing the importance of observing quarantine protocols for those returning from abroad to Israel, especially from countries where the infection rates are high. All seven of the patients are in home quarantine.

The new Indian COVID strain is not necessarily significant for Israel's rate of infection. Of at least eight foreign variants discovered in Israel, only one has become a dominant strain – the British variant, which is the source of almost all new cases.

Not every mutation of the virus will necessarily impact the spread of the virus in Israel. For example, the South African variant, which has been a major concern for health care professionals in Israel, has not spread widely. Only a few hundred cases have been discovered in the months since it was first identified in Israel.

Other mutations were also discovered in Israel including from New York, California, Brazil, Uganda, and one simply known as B1.525.

India has recently suffered a severe outbreak of the virus with about 14.3 million cases - second only to the US where there about 32 million cases. The death toll in India has surpassed 174,000.

The chance of the virus mutating is increased due to the rapid and widespread outbreak in such a large and densely populated country. In recent months dozens of different mutations of the virus have been discovered in India.

Last month, the Indian Health Ministry reported a variant that included two genetic changes – indicating a union of sorts between two variants previously known as "E484Q" and "L452R." However, the new variant is not believed to be responsible for the accelerated outbreak of the virus. Samples collected across India indicate that the most dominant variant is still the British variant.

Earlier Friday, coronavirus czar Prof. Nachman Ash voiced concern that Israel does not have enough vaccines for all citizens to receive a third dose

"We have enough doses to complete the first vaccine operation – that is, two doses per citizen," Ash told Army Radio. "This is something that concerns us," he added. 

A new Israeli coronavirus strain was discovered in March, but the Health Ministry said that the vaccines are effective against the local variant.

On Thursday, CNBC reported that Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla estimated that the vaccine was effective for one year after receiving the second dose, and said that an annual top-up might be required. 

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