Coronavirus variants continue to complicate efforts to fight outbreaks

One person returning to Israel from the UK infected 20-30 people, creating a rapid infection chain that resulted in over 700 confirmed infections • vaccinated people may still have to quarantine

The coronavirus ICU at Galilee Medical Center (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The coronavirus ICU at Galilee Medical Center
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
As Israel reported a record number of new daily cases of the novel coronavirus on Tuesday, public health officials warned that the UK variant of the virus is complicating efforts to control infection rates and outbreaks.
In an interview with KAN Reshet Bet radio, Public Health Services head Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis explained that the British variant seems to be having a significant impact on the high infection rates, especially in the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community.
"We're seeing very significant and rapid infections and it's really a race between this and the vaccine," said Alroy-Preis, adding that they could see clearly that the variant was spreading more quickly than the original version.
Alroy-Preis presented a couple of cases that showed that the British variant is more infectious, including one person who returned from the UK who infected 20-30 people, creating a rapid chain of infections that resulted in over 700 confirmed infections.
Health officials believe that 15%-20% of current cases in Israel involve the British variant. Additionally, while household members would not all be infected with the original virus, with the UK variant all the members of a household are infected within 48 hours.
Alroy-Preis explained that the situation is "not simple," but that there are signs that the vaccination is starting to have an impact on lowering infection rates and she hopes the lockdown and vaccinations will start to have more of a significant effect.
She explained that it's still unclear how much of an impact the vaccines are having as not enough time has passed and because there are a lot of moving numbers. It is also unclear whether the impact is coming from the vaccines, the lockdown or other measures. However, when it comes to the possibility of falling sick with a serious case of the virus, Alroy-Preis stressed that the vaccine is definitely having a positive impact.
IN DISCUSSIONS in the Health Ministry before the cabinet meeting on the lockdown later on Tuesday, Coronavirus Commissioner Nahman Ash stated that the first dose of the vaccine is less effective than they first thought, stressing the importance of receiving the second dose, according to Army Radio. Ash added that it is still unclear if the vaccine is effective against the new variants of the coronavirus.
Dr. Maor Maman, a specialist in obstetrics and gynecology, told Army Radio on Tuesday that a spike in the number of pregnant women experiencing severe symptoms of the virus is "no doubt" connected to mutations in the virus.
According to Army Radio, the Health Ministry is considering requiring even vaccinated people to be tested before entering the country and may change the current plan to exempt vaccinated people from quarantine as the effect of mutations on the vaccines is still unclear.
As of press time, four variants of the coronavirus had been reported around the world in addition to the original version: the UK variant, the South African variant, the Brazilian variant and a new variant discovered in Germany in the past week.
The British and South African variants have both been confirmed as more infectious and the South African and Brazilian variants both have a mutation that may make them better at evading antibodies, meaning that they may be a bit better at reinfecting people or even infecting vaccinated people.

CONCERNING DATA  that 12,000 Israelis were infected with the virus after receiving the vaccine, Alroy-Preis explained to KAN Reshet Bet that this is normal as the first dose does not provide total protection, which is only provided one week after the second dose.
Additionally, about 5% of people who receive the second dose may still be infected in any case, based on studies conducted by Pfizer. Some of the people confirmed as infected after receiving the vaccine were likely infected before receiving the vaccine, as the virus takes time to incubate.
Alroy-Preis called on Israelis to make sure to get the second dose of the vaccine, as 4% of Israelis have not returned to receive the second dose. While some of these people were unable to come because they were in quarantine, it is unclear why some of the others did not come.
The public health services head stated that people may not be coming for the second dose because they're "shocked by all sorts of publications, all sorts of irresponsible statements in the news and so on" on the vaccines and the side effects.
Many people with severe allergies have received the vaccine without any issues, but there have been dozens of people out of the over two million who have been vaccinated in Israel who have experienced allergic reactions. Alroy-Preis advised those who experience allergic reactions to remain at the vaccination clinics for supervision for at least 30 minutes.
Regarding controversy and lack of clarity concerning government policies for those leaving and entering the country, Alroy-Preis stressed that the most important thing is that those returning to the country follow quarantine regulations and that all travelers should be required to undergo a test before boarding a flight. She advised that air traffic in and out of the country should be decreased as much as possible to avoid infected patients and variants of the virus from entering the country.