BA.2 Variant Drives Up Israel's COVID Infection Rate Ahead of Purim Holiday

COVID in Israel: Despite spread of coronavirus variant, experts say mass reinfection unlikely after 'omicron infected half the country'

Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
A coronavirus ward at Shamir Medical Center, in central Israel, in January.
A coronavirus ward at Shamir Medical Center, in central Israel, in January.Credit: Avishag Shaar-Yashuv
Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati

Health Ministry officials are worried about the continued rise in the rate of COVID infections and its possible effects on the number of patients in serious condition, as the infectious BA.2 variant continues to spread ahead of the Purim holidays.

"We are still seeing a continued decrease in the number of infections in all groups and ages, but the infection rate has begun to rise in the past week," Prof. Salman Zarka, the head of the national effort to fight the coronavirus, said.

Democracy or Putin: 'Israel must choose a side in Ukraine'

The fifth wave of COVID has been receding for a few weeks, but in the past few days the pace of this decrease has slowed. The infection rate, known as the R number – the average number of people each coronavirus carrier infects – was 0.67 a month ago, but according to Health Ministry data, this number rose to 0.91 Tuesday morning.

The pandemic is in decline as long as this infection rate is less than 1, but the recent rise shows that this pace has slowed – and may be reversed. The R number is based on statistics from 10 days earlier.

Health officials attribute the slowing decline in COVID to the BA.2 variant, which is similar to the omicron in its structure and characteristics, but is 1.3 times more infectious. However, experts say that people who have recovered from omicron have a very low chance of being reinfected with BA.2.

Last week, the number of cases of infection with BA.2 passed that of the omicron variant, with 60 percent of the 242 cases that underwent genetic sequencing last week being identified as BA.2 infections.

As for the increase in BA.2 variant infections, Zarka said “the relative percentage of the new variant may be higher, but quantitatively there is no increase in the number of people infected with it – the percentage rose because of the decrease in the omicron infections.”

But, it is possible that the new variant will contribute to a rise in COVID cases – as has happened in Britain and Germany. “It can create a small wave whose onset may be seen as early as next week,” Zarka added.

BA.2 has become more common in several countries since the start of the year, and last month cases of the new variant outnumbered omicron globally.

While it is more resistant to vaccines, the variant doesn't lead to more serious illness than omicron. Experts stress that vaccines still offer significant protection against serious illness, especially with a booster shot.

Israel confirmed more than 2 million coronavirus cases during the fifth wave, but Prof. Eran Segal of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot estimates the actual number was higher. “According to my assessment, omicron infected about half the country, so another significant wave of omicron is not expected in the near future.”

Click the alert icon to follow topics:

Comments

SUBSCRIBERS JOIN THE CONVERSATION FASTER

Automatic approval of subscriber comments.

Subscribe today and save 40%

Already signed up? LOG IN

ICYMI

Palestinians search through the rubble of a building in which Khaled Mansour, a top Islamic Jihad militant was killed following an Israeli airstrike in Rafah, southern Gaza strip, on Sunday.

Gazans Are Tired of Pointless Wars and Destruction, and Hamas Listens to Them

Trump and Netanyahu at the White House in Washington, in 2020.

Three Years Later, Israelis Find Out What Trump Really Thought of Netanyahu

German soldier.

The Rival Jewish Spies Who Almost Changed the Course of WWII

Rio. Not all Jewish men wear black hats.

What Does a Jew Look Like? The Brits Don't Seem to Know

Galon. “I’m coming to accomplish a specific mission: to increase Meretz’s strength and ensure that the party will not tread water around the electoral threshold. If Meretz will be large enough, it will be the basis for a Jewish-Arab partnership.” Daniel Tchetchik

'I Have No Illusions About Ending the Occupation, but the Government Needs the Left'

Soldiers using warfare devices made by the Israeli defense electronics company Elbit Systems.

Russia-Ukraine War Catapults Israeli Arms Industry to Global Stage