Two people in Israel tested positive for a new COVID strain that is a combination of the original Omicron and the “stealth” BA.2 variant of the Omicron, the Health Ministry stated on Wednesday morning.
“This strain has not yet been identified in the world,” the ministry said, adding that the variant was discovered in two people who underwent PCR tests upon arrival at Ben-Gurion Airport.
“The infection rate has begun to rise in the past week,” coronavirus czar Prof. Salman Zarka said on Tuesday. Some health officials are wary of a new wave but others say that Israel is not currently at risk of a sixth COVID wave, despite the increase in infection rate and the possibility that Purim will contribute to an even further rise in infections.
Kan News reported that senior Health Ministry officials believe that the high percentage of recovered and vaccinated Israelis provides a high level of infection and will prevent a widespread outbreak. Approximately half of Israel’s population has already contracted COVID in recent months and there are currently no new variants that will infect those who have already recovered.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is holding a meeting regarding the rise in infection rate on Wednesday with Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz and other senior health officials.
The “stealth” BA.2 variant is believed to be responsible for the increasing number of COVID cases in Israel as well as in Europe and the US. In Israel, the number of cases identified as BA.2 has surpassed that of the original Omicron variant, and in the UK and Germany, BA.2 has contributed to a sharp rise COVID cases in recent weeks. Scientists believe that the “stealth” variant is 1.5 times more infectious than the original Omicron variant.
The BA.2 has been dubbed the “stealth” variant due to its genetic mutations that make it difficult to distinguish it from the Delta variant as compared to the original BA.1 Omicron variant.
(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem)