Previously unknown COVID variant detected in Israel, Health Ministry says

Baku, March 19, AZERTAC

The Health Ministry announced Wednesday morning that two cases of a new, previously unknown COVID variant were diagnosed in Israel in recent days, according to The Times of Israel.

The novel variant - a combination of Omicron’s dominant subvariant BA.1 and another subvariant, BA.2 - caused light symptoms including low fever, muscle aches and headaches, and did not require special treatment.

“This variant is still unknown around the world,” the Health Ministry said, adding that the cases were diagnosed in PCR tests taken from arriving Israeli passengers at Ben Gurion Airport.

The ministry said it will continue to closely monitor the situation.

BA.2 has been documented to have re-infected some people after an initial case of Omicron. There’s mixed research on whether it causes more severe disease, but vaccines appear just as effective against it.

While the number of people getting tested in Israel has fallen, all international arrivals at the airport are checked upon landing.

Speaking to 103FM radio Wednesday morning, Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash said the new variant could have originated in Israel.

“It’s likely that they were infected before boarding the flight in Israel. The variant could have emerged here,” he said. “We don’t know what it means yet.”

In an interview with Army Radio, COVID czar Salman Zarka seemed to confirm that the new variant was local.

“A young woman infected a baby and both of her parents,” he said, not specifying where or when the infections occurred.

“The phenomenon of combined variants is well known,” he noted. “At this point, we’re not concerned about [the new variant leading to] serious cases.”

Zarka’s reassuring remarks come as Israel has registered an uptick in the transmission rate of the virus in recent weeks.

The R number - the reproduction rate of the novel coronavirus - hit 0.9 on Wednesday, based on data from 10 days earlier, rising steadily from 0.66 over two weeks. The figure represents the number of people each confirmed patient infects, on average. Any number over one signifies that the pandemic is growing.

New daily COVID cases have dropped fairly steadily over the past month, from more than 30,000 in mid-February to just over 6,300 on Tuesday.

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