Israel is going to stop using the Shin Bet tracking technology to locate citizens exposed to the coronavirus Omicron variant on Friday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz announced Thursday, as a third case of the variant was identified in the country.
“From the first moment, I stressed that the use of this tool would be limited and very brief – for a few days, to get urgent information to stop the infection in light of a new and unknown variant,” Horowitz tweeted. “That’s exactly what we did. We are now bringing it to an end because alongside health, we must protect privacy and human rights, even in an emergency.”
According to their statement, the decision was made after assessing the situation and the tracking might be used again if morbidity requires it.
In Israel, as of Thursday, there were only three people confirmed as infected with Omicron, the Health Ministry said in a statement. One, who returned from Malawi, was vaccinated with the AstraZeneca vaccine, and another two who were inoculated with three Pfizer shots, one of whom returned from South Africa and the other from the UK.
There were also 24 cases of people suspected of having been exposed to the variant who were waiting for the results of genetic sequencing of their tests, 11 of whom had recently traveled abroad. Only six of the 24 are fully vaccinated, while 18 are not.
Another 12 cases were under investigation but those people are considered to have been at low risk of having contracted Omicron.
Finally, eight people who were previously suspected of having been infected were confirmed as not infected.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, in an assessment meeting with Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz regarding the new "Omicron" variant, decided that those who land in the country will be fined NIS 2,500 if they do not take a second PCR three or seven days after landing. The decision will take effect within a few weeks.
Also, the Health and Education Ministries, in cooperation with local authorities, will launch a special children's vaccination program in different localities according to the framework in which the following will be implemented: coordination between the local authority, schools and parents, as well as an awareness program in the education system among parents and family members prior to the arrival of vaccines, and notifications to localities regarding when there is a local vaccination day when vaccination mobility will reach schools and community centers.
Meanwhile, more information about vaccine efficacy against Omicron has begun to emerge.
According to South African scientists, vaccines might be somewhat less effective in preventing infection but should still offer good protection against severe disease and death.
The “mutation profile and epidemiological picture suggests Omicron is able to get around some of our immune protection (to cause infection) but the protection against severe disease and death from vaccines should be less affected,” read a Wednesday report by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) – the country’s national public health institute – as quoted by Reuters.
“So we believe, I think very much so, that the reinfections... will be less severe,” said microbiologist Anne von Gottberg.
“And that’s what we’re trying to prove and to monitor very carefully in South Africa,” she said. “And the same would hold for those that are vaccinated.”
The NICD has not yet published any data supporting the statements. It also did not specify whether there are differences between the different vaccines against the virus.
A week after the new variant discovered in South Africa was first discovered, Omicron has been identified in some thirty countries around the world.
Also on Wednesday, the morbidity in Israel remained stable.
There were 526 cases registered on Wednesday. A week earlier, there were 544.
Active cases in the past few days have been steady at around 5,500. At the peak of the fourth wave, there were over 80,000.
As of Thursday, Israel had 116 patients in serious conditions. A week earlier there were 119.
Reuters contributed to this report.