The Health Ministry said Sunday that two Israelis who had previously recovered from COVID-19 have been infected by the South African variant of the coronavirus.
According to the ministry, the South African variant has been found in 14 people diagnosed with COVID-19 since the beginning of this month, and 44 cases of the variant have been identified in Israel in total. The ministry added that the patients had been in contact with at least 124 people in 36 different chains of infection.
"The Health Ministry is continuing to carry out an extensive national survey among COVID-19 patients to examine the spread of the variants in Israel through genetic sequencing," the ministry's announcement said. It added that it is examining a backlog of cases in the triangle region in Israel's north, "and making an effort to examine the extent of the outbreak in the area."
The South African coronavirus variant has been found in at least 32 countries to date, including the United States. At the end of last month, three cases were identified in Israel during a random sampling in the community, among patients who had not returned from abroad and were not in contact with people who did. These cases attest to the spread of the variant in the country, as well as to the existence of chains of infection whose source has not been identified through the contact tracing system.
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The South African variant shares a few of its structural changes with the British variant, and preliminary scientific evidence suggests that it may also be more infections than the original virus. It also suggests that the changes in this variant may to some extent reduce the effectiveness of the coronavirus vaccines.
Preliminary research published in January found that the South African variant is resistant to the coronavirus antibodies of recovered patients; it may carry a higher risk of infecting those who have already had the virus than the original variant. Despite this, the researchers emphasized that these findings are preliminary and have not yet undergone peer review, and additional research is needed in order to determine the level of the variant's resistance to the vaccines.