‘EMERGENCY SITUATION’: New highly mutated COVID variant detected in Israel

PM Bennett told the country that Israel is “raising a red flag” and is about to enter “a state of emergency.”

By Tobias Siegal, World Israel News

The first new case of a highly mutated coronavirus variant has been detected in Israel, the Health Ministry reported Friday.

The ministry reported that the confirmed case was of an Israeli citizen who had just returned from Malawi. Two other possible infections are being closely monitored by the ministry.

All three Israelis were vaccinated, the ministry noted.

The new strain, which first emerged in South Africa and is currently referred to by its scientific name B.1.1.529, has caused concern among Israeli health experts, especially with the approaching holiday of Hanukkah.

Israeli PM Naftali Bennett called an emergency meeting and then told the country that Israel is “raising a red flag” and is about to enter “a state of emergency.”

“The new variant is more contagious, at a much quicker pace than the Delta strain,” Bennett said. “We are currently drawing on the health system in South Africa, which is doing very impressive work, but we still do not have all of the information. Our knowledge will expand very quickly in the coming days. We will know if the variant is really breaking through the vaccines, how fast, if it is deadlier or not, how it affects children, etc.”

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He added: “We are currently at the threshold of an emergency situation. I ask everyone to be prepared and to fully join in the work around the clock.”

In an attempt to prevent the new strain from reaching the country, Israel banned on Wednesday the entry of foreign nationals from South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini.

Israelis returning from those countries, including those fully vaccinated, will be required to isolate in state-run COVID hotels from one week and receive two negative CPR tests before being released.

Israel’s “red countries” list had been empty for about six weeks before this decision was made.

Going forward, Bennett “will carry out regular situation assessments on the B.1.1529 variant,” a statement by the Prime Minster’s Office read.

The new variant has alarmed experts around the world due to its large number of mutations found in other variants, including Delta, and the fact that it has been spreading quickly across South Africa.

It was first identified earlier this month in travellers arriving in Hong Kong from South Africa. South Africa’s National Institute For Communicable Diseases (NICD) has so far reported 22 confirmed cases of the new strain.