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19 suspected cases have not traveled recently

7 cases of Omicron variant now confirmed in Israel, with 27 more suspected

Health Ministry says 2 confirmed cases are fully vaccinated with Pfizer shot; of the 8 fully vaccinated people who were confirmed or suspected cases, only one had symptoms

Illustrative -- A medic collects a swab sample from an Israeli border guard at a COVID-19 drive-through testing site in Jerusalem, on November 29, 2021. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)
Illustrative -- A medic collects a swab sample from an Israeli border guard at a COVID-19 drive-through testing site in Jerusalem, on November 29, 2021. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

The Health Ministry said Friday morning that there are seven confirmed cases in Israel of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

The ministry said two of those cases were fully inoculated with three doses of the Pfizer vaccine (one traveler from South Africa, the other from the United Kingdom) and one person who traveled from Malawi had received AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine.

The remaining four cases were people who had traveled from South Africa and were unvaccinated.

The ministry said there were a further 27 cases of the coronavirus which had not yet been confirmed to be the Omicron strain, but officials were of a “high suspicion” that they were the new variant.

Of those 27 cases, eight had recently traveled from abroad recently or had contact with somebody who had.

But 19 suspected cases had not traveled recently, raising concerns of potential community spread of the strain.

A medic collects a swab sample from a child at a Covid-19 drive-through testing site in Jerusalem, on November 29, 2021. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

The ministry also provided a breakdown of those suffering symptoms taking into account all 34 cases — the seven confirmed cases and 27 probable cases.

Of those, 26 were “unprotected,” the ministry said, meaning they were neither vaccinated nor had they recovered from the virus. In that group, 10 people were symptomatic and 16 were asymptomatic.

Of the eight individuals who were vaccinated, only one person had symptoms while the other seven were asymptomatic. A top South African scientist said Thursday that people infected with earlier variants of COVID do not appear to be protected against Omicron, although vaccination does prevent serious illness.

Israeli child receives a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine from medical staff at Clalit Health services in Tel Aviv, on November 23, 2021. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

There were no further details given on the condition of those individuals with confirmed or suspected cases.

In addition, the ministry said there were a further 14 cases which were defined as borderline cases and of “low suspicion” that they were the Omicron strain, and those samples have been sent for further testing.

PCR tests are thought to be able to identify Omicron cases by flagging whether a certain gene is present or not. However, health officials have continued to rely on genetic sequencing, which can take several days to complete, for confirmation of which strain of the coronavirus a patient is carrying.

Friday’s announcement marked an increase of four cases confirmed overnight.

One case was confirmed on Thursday evening — a doctor who attended a conference in London.

The ministry did not name the third carrier, but his details matched those of Dr. Elad Maor, a Sheba Medical Center cardiologist who said earlier this week that he had tested positive for the variant.

Maor told international media outlets Wednesday that he suspected he contracted the variant while recently attending a medical conference in London, raising worries that the variant was more widely spread across the United Kingdom than known.

“I got the Omicron in London, for sure,” Maor told the Guardian. “That is interesting because that was 10 days ago in London – really, really early.”

Dr. Elad Maor. (Sheba Medical Center)

He said that he tested negative upon returning to Israel on November 23, but that he later began experiencing mild symptoms and was confirmed to have COVID-19 four days later.

According to the latest ministry data, there were 478 new cases of coronavirus diagnosed on Thursday, bringing the total number of active cases in Israel to 5,369. Just 0.54 percent of samples tested Thursday came back positive.

There were 112 patients in serious condition and the death toll since the start of the pandemic stood at 8,199.

Roughly 60% of the country’s 9.4 million population is fully vaccinated, according to the Health Ministry data.

The ministry said that since the country kicked off its campaign last week to vaccinate younger children, 5.6% of kids aged 5-11 have received their first dose.

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