A new strain of coronavirus B.1.1.529 from the South African region poses a challenge for Israel, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Friday.
"The country is on the brink of an emergency, and I ask everyone to be fully prepared and work tirelessly," the Jerusalem Post quoted the prime minister as saying.
He recalled that recently Israel had held an "Omega" exercise to test the authorities' preparedness to deal with a new outbreak of COVID-19. However, such a scenario seemed "somewhat distant" at the time, he said.
The prime minister stressed that the new strain of the virus is highly contagious, and that Israel is in contact with South Africa about the threat. He added that all information is not yet complete, but in the coming days Israel should receive data on whether the strain overcomes immune defenses, how volatile it is, and how it affects children.
Recall that variant B.1.1.529 has been found in South Africa, Botswana, Israel and in a tourist who came to Hong Kong from South Africa. The new variant has a large number of mutations - 32. According to virologists, the high number of mutations of the virus is "a serious problem.
A total of one case of the B.1.1.529 strain has been reported in Israel, and two other travelers are suspected of being infected with the strain, but their tests are being processed. "The Jerusalem Post emphasizes that all three were vaccinated, and authorities are in the process of double-checking that fact.
The day before, Prime Minister Bennett announced a travel ban on South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, and Eswatini (Swaziland). Also, residents of these countries will be banned from entering Israel, and Israeli tourists returning from these countries will have to go into isolation for a week even if they are fully vaccinated.