A new Israeli coronavirus mutation has been discovered in Israel, the Health Ministry reported Tuesday.
“The Israeli variant appeared in samples from July but is disappearing and the evidence for it is dwindling,” the ministry said in a statement, two days after scientists from Israel’s Central Virology Laboratory posted a paper about the mutation on MedRxiv.
In the report, it explains that the strain, which began circulating in July, was first identified in wastewater sequencing in October 2020 and then in clinical samples for the first time in November 2020.
In October 2020, it was found at a 5% frequency in wastewater samples from the southern Israeli city of Rahat. In November, the strain was discovered at a frequency of 98% in Netanya and Haifa.
So far, some 181 people are known to have been infected with the mutation, according to the paper, but health officials believe there could be hundreds more who were infected with the virus.
Nonetheless, the British variant remains the dominant strain in Israel, still constituting at least 90% of all cases.
The strain has not been associated with higher infection rates nor does it appear to cause more serious illness. Furthermore, the Pfizer vaccine appears effective against it.
The variant was discovered by the Central Virology Laboratory at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, during routine genetic sequencing. The ministry said it has “no clinical or epidemiological significance.”
“There is nothing new and nothing worrying here,” Prof. Eyal Leshem, director of Sheba’s Center for Travel Medicine and Tropical Diseases, told The Jerusalem Post.
He also noted that the less transmission there is in Israel and the higher the immunization rate, the less concerned the country needs to be about new local variants. However, he said that Israel must continue to be cautious about variants coming into the country from abroad.
A report released Tuesday morning by the Coronavirus Knowledge and Information Center once again warned of the harm that these potential variants could cause.
“A major issue these days is risk management in Israel with regards to the arrival of problematic variants of the coronavirus from abroad,” the report said. It highlighted the South African, Brazilian and New York variants, which have shown to be more infectious in people who have recovered from coronavirus and recommended that those who had recovered get the jab as soon as possible.
It also cautioned against allowing easy entry into Israel from Central and South America, the United States and Europe, adding that Israel should likewise test and isolate those entering the country as needed.
Leshem said all people, including those who are vaccinated, should be tested on entry to Israel. He said unvaccinated people need to be tested before travel and on arrival and they should be quarantined.
“The same way you prevent people from getting on an airplane with a handgun, you can stop people from falsifying lab results” or traveling unprotected, he said.
Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport has been almost fully open for entry of Israelis since March 20.