First case of Delta Plus COVID variant found in Israel — report

Vaccinated woman who returned from abroad found carrying strain; top official says immunized travelers from countries with serious COVID outbreaks will soon be forced to quarantine

Travelers arriving at the Ben Gurion International Airport in Israel. July 1, 2021. (Nati Shohat/FLASH90)
Travelers arriving at the Ben Gurion International Airport in Israel. July 1, 2021. (Nati Shohat/FLASH90)

The first case of the so-called Delta Plus variant has been detected in Israel, according to a report on Wednesday. The development came as a top health official announced that vaccinated travelers entering Israel from virus hotspots could be forced to enter quarantine.

The Delta variant, which is believed to be twice as contagious as the original strain of COVID-19, is thought to be responsible for 90 percent of new cases in Israel over the past two weeks. The Delta Plus strain has an extra mutation from the Delta variant, the significance of which is still unclear.

The new strain was found in a vaccinated woman who entered Israel from abroad, the Haaretz daily reported, without identifying the traveler’s country of origin.

A man who came in contact with the woman in Israel has since contracted COVID-19 and genetic sequencing is being performed to check whether he is also carrying the Delta Plus strain, the report said.

The information was not immediately confirmed by the Health Ministry.

Also Wednesday, coronavirus czar Nachman Ash announced that vaccinated travelers returning from high-risk destinations will be forced to enter isolation, following an outbreak of the Delta variant in Israel that has seen the daily COVID-19 caseload swell to 500 infections.

“We will expand the quarantine requirement to the vaccinated who return from countries with serious travel warnings,” Ash told reporters.

Israeli medical workers test Israelis for Covid-19 at a drive-in testing compound in the Golan Heights, following a recent outbreak of the virus. July 7, 2021. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)

Currently, Israelis who are vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19 are exempt from quarantine upon returning to the country, unless returning from COVID-19 hotspots to which travel is barred: Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, India, Mexico and Russia. This order does not extend to over a dozen countries flagged in travel advisories for their high COVID-19 caseload, including the United Arab Emirates, Seychelles, Chile, Costa Rica and Georgia.

Despite Ash’s assurance on the change of policy, during a meeting of the so-called coronavirus cabinet earlier Wednesday ministers did not approve such a measure.

The ministers approved an order saying that all travelers from abroad will now have to self-isolate until receiving a negative COVID-19 test result from samples taken upon landing.

But the government largely steered clear of introducing new restrictions to rein in the rising morbidity rates blamed on the Delta variant.

Despite the rise in cases, Ash told reporters Wednesday the prospects of a new lockdown being introduced were low.

Israel’s Health Ministry released data on Monday showing that the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID vaccine appears to largely prevent hospitalization and serious cases, but is significantly less effective against preventing the spread of the Delta variant of the coronavirus.

According to the ministry, the Pfizer vaccine’s effectiveness in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 has dropped by some 30 percent to 64%, given the spread of the Delta variant. The data shows that during May, when the strain was less prevalent, the vaccine was 94.3% effective. The data, however, also shows that the vaccine is still highly effective against preventing serious symptoms and hospitalization. During May, that figure stood at 98.2%, and during June, it was 93%.

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