Israel's four new Omicron cases: Mom, kids who returned from South Africa

What else do we know about Israel’s seven Omicron variant coronavirus cases?

 Shaare Zedek hospital team members wearing safety gear as they work in the Coronavirus ward of Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem on September 23, 2021. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Shaare Zedek hospital team members wearing safety gear as they work in the Coronavirus ward of Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem on September 23, 2021.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

There have been seven cases of people who are sick with the Omicron variant confirmed in Israel, the Health Ministry said Friday morning – the majority unvaccinated.

This is four more cases than the last time the ministry sent a report.

The new cases were all members of one family – a mother and her three children, The Jerusalem Post has confirmed. They did not test positive at the airport, but only a few days later.

Specifically, the ministry said, four people were unvaccinated and three were vaccinated – two individuals had three shots of the Pfizer vaccine and one had two shots of AstraZeneca.

Of those infected, all of them returned from abroad: Five from South Africa, one from England and one from Malawi.

 A photo illustration showing ampoules of Covid-19 vaccine for children at a Clallit vaccine center in Jerusalem on November 28, 2021. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90) A photo illustration showing ampoules of Covid-19 vaccine for children at a Clallit vaccine center in Jerusalem on November 28, 2021. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

In addition to those confirmed to be infected, there were 27 additional highly suspicious cases as of Friday. Those people have tested positive for COVID, but their PCR specimens are still undergoing genetic screening.

Among the suspicious cases, 22 people were unvaccinated or six months had passed since their recovery, and the other five are fully vaccinated. Out of the 27 cases, only eight were recently abroad. The other 19 would have caught the variant in Israel.

Looking at all 34 sick people – infected and suspected of being infected with Omicron – among the unprotected, 10 have symptoms and 16 do not. Among the vaccinated, one has symptoms and seven do not.

In Israel, fully vaccinated is considered anyone who was vaccinated with two shots or got a booster dose in the last six months. Anyone who has recovered in the last six months is also considered fully protected.

HEALTH EXPERTS are beginning to better understand Omicron – and it does seem, based on early data, that the variant does not cause more serious illness than previous variants. It also seems that while the vaccine may not be wholly protective against Omicron infection, it is warding off any serious symptoms.

In South Africa, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases has said the latest data indicates that the variant can evade immunity from infection with earlier variants and is causing reinfections at three times previous rates.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett posted on his Facebook page about the Omicron variant on Friday, defending the country’s decision to ban foreigners for two weeks until more is known about how well the vaccine works against it.

“When there is certainty and knowledge… we act accordingly,” Bennett said. “In the case of the Omicron, as long as there is no high probability answer that the vaccines are highly effective against it, I do not intend to take risks.

“Imagine a vaccine-resistant variant entering the country,” he continued. “Such a scenario takes us almost two years back, to the beginning of the pandemic,” he said.

“Thanks to our vigorous actions, Israel is an ‘island’ of calm and normalcy amid a global storm of coronavirus and closures.”

Late Thursday, Bennett and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz announced that in addition to the travel restrictions there would be a new NIS 2,500 fine on anyone who arrives back in the country and fails to retest for the virus 72 hours after arrival or on day seven, as required based on each person’s level of vaccination.

The measure will not come into effect immediately due to technical issues that need to be resolved, they said.

Since the instruction – to take a test three days after a person arrives back in Israel in addition to the one done at the airport – went into effect on Sunday night, 16% of those entering Israel did not take a second test – 2,651 people out of 15,820 who returned to Israel on the first day. The majority of the 84% who were screened were only tested on the fourth or fifth day.

If these percentages continue, it will mean that about 18,000 people on average per week would fail to take the second test, which health experts have said could lead to a widespread outbreak of Omicron in Israel.

The ministry added that there are an additional 14 cases of the new variant that are ranked as having a low-level of suspicion, meaning their samples returned and were defined as “borderline,” so they are being retested.

MEANWHILE, the reproduction rate or “R” has dropped again, holding at 0.98 on Saturday night, the Health Ministry said. The R is still not as low as health experts would want it to be. An R of 0.8 or lower means that morbidity is on the decline. However, a rate of one means that the virus has plateaued and is not spreading.

There were 445 people diagnosed with the virus on Friday, the Health Ministry said Saturday night – only 0.5% of people screened had a positive result.

There were 111 people in serious condition, including 64 who were intubated.

The death toll stood at 8,199.

And finally, the children’s vaccination campaign continues. So far, only 0.03% of children ages 5-11 have gotten the jab, according to the Health Ministry website, though the campaign does seem to have been picking up steam in recent days.

Bennett said he expects to reach 100,000 vaccinated children by the end of the week.

On Thursday, Horowitz said that the Health and Education ministries would soon roll out a special children’s vaccination program in collaboration with local authorities to help increase compliance.

“There is a reason why the world is looking to us when it comes to coronavirus – [because] we have shown that we know what we are doing,” Bennett said.

“Go get vaccinated with a booster,” he concluded, “and take the kids to get vaccinated.”