7 cases of Indian COVID variant detected in Israel

Health Ministry says strain found among unvaccinated travelers, adds that ‘there is still no clear information’ on the variant or its impact

Medical technicians test passengers for COVID-19 at Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv on March 8, 2021. (Flash90)
Illustrative: Medical technicians test passengers for COVID-19 at Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv on March 8, 2021. (Flash90)

A coronavirus variant from India has been detected in Israel for the first time, the Health Ministry announced Friday.

The ministry said the strain was found among seven unvaccinated travelers who returned to Israel from abroad. It was not specified where the seven arrived from.

The variant was detected using genome sequencing, according to the Health Ministry.

“There is still no clear information on the variant or its effect on the vaccinated and recovered,” a ministry statement said.

India has confirmed the new and potentially troublesome variant of the coronavirus, which has two mutations in the spiky protein that the virus uses to fasten itself to cells. Dr. Rakesh Mishra, director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, said last month that these genetic tweaks could be of concern since they might help the virus spread more easily and escape the immune system.

India is currently battling a widespread surge in infections, with experts suspecting the most likely cause is the presence of more infectious variants, including the one detected in the country.

Passengers line up for COVID-19 medical screening after arriving at a railway platform in Mumbai, India, on April 16, 2021. (Punit Paranjpe/AFP)

The virus has been mutating throughout the pandemic. Most mutations are trivial, but scientists have been investigating which ones might make the virus spread more easily or make people sicker.

The three variants first detected in South Africa, Britain and Brazil are considered the most worrisome. The most widespread of these was the more contagious variant that was detected in the United Kingdom last year. The extensive spread of the UK strain in Israel has been blamed for the severity of the Jewish state’s third coronavirus wave earlier this year.

In a report last week, the Health Ministry designated several countries as more likely to be a source of mutated coronavirus strains that could have greater resistance to current vaccines. The report did not mention India.

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