A previously unknown coronavirus variant has been discovered in Israel and is thought to be a combination of the Omicron BA.1 and BA.2 subvariants, the Health Ministry reported on Wednesday morning.
Two cases of the variant were discovered during routine PCR testing performed at Ben-Gurion Airport for all passengers entering the country. Those infected with it are reported to be experiencing mild symptoms including fever, headaches and muscle pain, and did not require additional medical attention.
The Health Ministry has said that they are continuing to monitor the situation in the airport, and will provide additional information as it becomes available.
Following the announcement, Shamir Medical Center in Tzrifin, where the PCR tests were sequenced, released a statement further clarifying the situation.
“Analysis of the data revealed a unique genetic signature that combines mutations originating in the BA.1 strain and mutations originating in the BA.2 strain,” said the medical center’s representative. “It is important to note that the variant’s detection is only possible through deep sequencing. The data was immediately transmitted to the Health Ministry and Central Virus Laboratory for verification.”
While this variant has yet to be discovered anywhere else in the world and thus not much is yet known about it, senior Hadassah Medical Center physician Prof. Dror Mevorach acknowledged that “every two to three weeks there is a new variant. As long as it does not make up a significant part of new infections, it will not be defined as a variant of concern and has little significance.”
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett held a meeting on Wednesday afternoon in light of the rising corona infection rates in certain areas of the world, including China and Hong Kong in particular. Those present at the meeting included Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz and other senior health officials, including Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash, corona commissioner Salman Zarka, and the commander of the Home Front Command.
Israel’s current virus data was reviewed in comparison with the aforementioned countries, and the currently available data on both the BA.2 strain and the new combined strain were presented and discussed as well.
The meeting concluded that no new restrictions will be introduced at present, but the requirement to wear masks in closed public spaces will continue to be mandated, and will be reviewed again closer to the Passover holiday.
There will also be continued efforts to inform the public of the importance of receiving all three vaccines, and preparations will be made for the possibility of another wave, should it occur in the near future.