The first two cases of a new Omicron subvariant of the coronavirus were detected among arriving travelers at Ben Gurion Airport, the Health Ministry said Tuesday, a day after it announced the first cases of another closely related subvariant.
According to a ministry statement, a pair of travelers tested positive for the subvariant known as BA.5. It did not specify where they were coming from, or if they were traveling together.
On Monday, the ministry said three travelers had tested positive for the BA.4 variant, which has been spreading in South Africa, along with BA.5. The ministry said Tuesday a fourth case of BA.4 had been detected at the airport.
Earlier this month, the World Health Organization said scientists in Botswana and South Africa had detected the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants, but are not yet sure whether they are more transmissible or dangerous than previous versions of Omicron.
WHO said there was no evidence thus far that the new subvariants spread any differently from the original Omicron variant.
Health officials in Israel say they are closely watching the new variants, but they are not yet a cause for worry.
“The new variant is being tracked, and we are not seeing any dramatic impact in hospitalizations,” Ilana Gans, chief of staff of the public health services department at the Health Ministry, told a hearing of the Knesset Health Committee earlier Tuesday.
Gans also told the committee that Health Ministry officials will be meeting in the coming weeks to discuss the remaining COVID restrictions still in effect, including mandatory PCR tests for anyone who lands at Ben Gurion Airport, and quarantine for all those who test positive.
On Saturday evening, Israel’s indoor mask mandate came to an end after almost two full years in effect. Currently, masks are only required in hospitals, old age homes and aboard flights, and ministry officials are also weighing the continuation of such requirements.
As of Tuesday morning, there were 27,570 active confirmed COVID cases in Israel, with 4,440 new cases diagnosed a day earlier. Currently, 595 COVID-positive patients are hospitalized, with 212 in serious condition and 74 of those on ventilators. The R reproduction rate has trended slightly upward in recent days, reaching 0.9 after hitting 0.7 a week ago.