Doctor who attended UK summit confirmed as Israel’s 3rd Omicron case

Health Ministry looking into another 30 suspected cases of new coronavirus variant, including 19 people with no known exposure to carriers or recent travel abroad

Hospital workers wearing safety work in the coronavirus ward at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem on October 14, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Hospital workers wearing safety work in the coronavirus ward at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem on October 14, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

A doctor who attended a conference in London last week has been confirmed as Israel’s third coronavirus case with the Omicron variant, with another 30 patients likely carriers as well, the Health Ministry said Thursday evening

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.

The latest confirmed patient had recently returned from the UK, and was vaccinated with three shots of the Pfizer vaccine, the ministry said.

The two previously confirmed cases were a tourist from Malawi and an Israeli who recently returned from South Africa. The Health Ministry says the Malawian was inoculated with AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, while the Israeli received three doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s shot.

Additionally, the Health Ministry said Thursday that it was looking into another 30 cases of suspected exposure to Omicron, but that the samples have not yet been sequenced to verify if the infections were from the variant.

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.

Of the 30 “highly suspect” cases, the Health Ministry said 11 people were recently overseas or had come in contact with returnees from abroad, adding that the other 19 had no exposure to anyone who was abroad. It said only six of the suspected cases either were vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19 in the past six months and that the other 24 were “unprotected” against the virus.

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 UK 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.

“The only reasonable explanation is that I got infected on the last day of the meeting – maybe at the airport, maybe at the meeting,” he said.

Sheba hospital said Tuesday that a second doctor was also found to have the variant, and Maor said a colleague, 70, with whom he had shared a car ride, had also tested positive. However, some 50 other people he was in close contact with between his return from London and his positive result have tested negative, The New York Times reported, raising hopes that vaccinated individuals might be able to avoid being infected.

“I think the transmissibility of this [variant] is not completely different or extremely different to what I know about Delta,” he said, referring to the highly transmissible strain that has fueled coronavirus outbreaks worldwide.

According to the latest ministry data, there were 536 new cases of COVID variants diagnosed on Wednesday, bringing the total number of active cases in Israel to 5,381. Just 0.59% of samples tested Wednesday came back positive.

At least 115 patients were 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.

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