One Israeli family causes mass Omicron outbreak - here’s how

The family from Jerusalem - parents and two young children, known as “Family P” - recently returned to Israel from South Africa. 

Colorized scanning electron micrograph of an apoptotic cell (greenish brown) heavily infected with SARS-COV-2 virus particles (pink), also known as novel coronavirus, isolated from a patient sample. Image captured and color-enhanced at the NIAID Integrated Research Facility (IRF) in Fort Detrick, Ma (photo credit: NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES - NIH/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
Colorized scanning electron micrograph of an apoptotic cell (greenish brown) heavily infected with SARS-COV-2 virus particles (pink), also known as novel coronavirus, isolated from a patient sample. Image captured and color-enhanced at the NIAID Integrated Research Facility (IRF) in Fort Detrick, Ma
(photo credit: NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES - NIH/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

A family of four might have caused the country’s largest Omicron outbreak to date because they chose not to quarantine after returning from a trip abroad.

The Jewish family from Jerusalem – parents and two young children known as “Family P” – recently returned to Israel from South Africa.

When returning from a red country, travelers are required to take a PCR test at the airport and then check in to a coronavirus hotel until a negative result is obtained. Then, they may sign a contract that allows them to complete their isolation at home.

This family followed the first part of the procedure, testing negative on return to Israel. However, a few days later, when they were supposed to be isolating at home, they were not. Instead, the parents went to work and the children went to school and preschool.

A few days into their non-isolation, the family was re-tested. Although it is unclear why, this was likely because they started to experience symptoms. They all tested positive. Even so, they continued their normal activities in the community.

 The Evelina de Rothschild school  (credit: OLIVER FITOUSSI/FLASH90) The Evelina de Rothschild school (credit: OLIVER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

And it seems they infected more than a dozen people.

There is a major outbreak in at least one Jerusalem school, which sources say could be linked to Family P – though this is still unconfirmed.

On Thursday, Jerusalem’s Evelina de Rothschild Elementary School for girls said that 62 students had tested positive for COVID-19 and that all students would move to distance learning to help stop the chain of infection. Two teachers also tested positive.

On Friday, however, the school sent a note to parents saying they had not received any confirmation from the Health Ministry that students were infected with Omicron. Moreover, they stressed that to their knowledge, “There is no connection between the family that returned from South Africa and the girls of Evelina.”

Here is where it gets even more complicated.

Nearby, a 15-year-old boy tested positive for COVID-19, and his parents were contacted by the Alon Headquarters of the Home Front Command so that they could trace his chain of infection. As per the records, the young man had been abroad in South Africa.

However, when trackers called the family, they lied and said the boy had not been abroad, refusing to take part in the investigation.

But the parents paid the price: They caught the virus from their son, meaning all three members of their nuclear family were now sick with COVID.

Of course, that did not stop them from going about their business, either.

The teen’s mom works in a Jerusalem seminary, and now there are at least 15 girls sick at that school, too. One cannot say for sure that the mother infected the students, but the probability is high.

And here is where it all intertwines: The 15-year-old boy is the brother of one of the two parents from Family P who went abroad, and his parents are their kids’ grandparents. Meaning, they are all close relatives.

All seven are carriers of the Omicron variant, and there are another 22 individuals who were in contact with the family and diagnosed with the virus who are considered very likely to have Omicron.

At least one more sibling has also tested positive for the virus.

The rest of the family’s siblings – there are six – refuse to answer the phone and participate in the epidemiological investigation, only further complicating the situation. Epidemiological tracking to cut off the chain of infection only works if people cooperate and tell the truth.

The Omicron variant is at least four times more contagious than its Delta predecessor. In the United Kingdom, the country’s health secretary, Sajid Javid, told parliament earlier this week there were around 200,000 people in the country who had already caught the Omicron variant. That number is expected to climb to half-a-million by sometime next week.

At last report, Israel had 134 confirmed Omicron cases and more than 300 highly suspicious cases.

If this new outbreak is as substantial as it seems, it could take months to complete tracing the entire chain of infection. That’s because proper epidemiological tracking takes a long time – and even longer when dealing with long and complicated chains and people who refuse to cooperate.

Experts say this story could be the start of a mass Omicron outbreak in Israel, leaving only one message: Keep quarantine.