Health officials fear mutant strain spreading, as they examine dozens of tests

Concern grows that new, more transmissible coronavirus variant from Britain is widely dispersed, as Health Ministry confirms 5th case

A Maccabi Healthcare Services worker handles a test sample at a coronavirus testing site in Modiin, on December 24, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
A Maccabi Healthcare Services worker handles a test sample at a coronavirus testing site in Modiin, on December 24, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Health officials fear dozens of test samples currently under examination will be found to contain a new, more transmissible coronavirus strain that originated in Britain, according to multiple reports Thursday.

Due to concerns the new variant could be spreading in the country, Channel 13 news said the Health Ministry would convert its main laboratory into a center for genetic mapping of the mutated coronavirus strains.

The network said the ministry was purchasing a special machine from abroad for NIS 10 million ($3.1 million) for the new laboratory.

The reports came as the Health Ministry announced a fifth confirmed case of the new strain.

The ministry said the woman had recently returned from England and was self-isolating at home, having entered Israel before a government order came into effect requiring all Israelis to quarantine at state-run facilities. It did not specify when she returned to Israel. The woman was feeling well, according to a ministry statement.

Travelers coming from Britain, Denmark and South Africa have been required to quarantine at designated hotels since Sunday. The order was extended to all travelers on Wednesday.

People who landed on a flight from England arrive at the Dan Panorama Hotel in Jerusalem, which is being used as a quarantine facility, on December 20, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Three of the other cases were people who had recently returned from the UK and were staying in isolation hotels. The fourth was a woman from Bnei Brak, the Ynet news site reported Thursday. She had not been abroad.

Bnei Brak, an ultra-Orthodox suburb of Tel Aviv, has been one of the areas hardest-hit by the virus in Israel.

Illustrative: Ultra-Orthodox Jews walk in Bnei Brak on October 14, 2020, during a nationwide lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

“The woman lives in a very crowded area and therefore it is likely that the mutation spread,” sources were quoted as saying by Ynet.

Earlier, Channel 12 news reported that 700 tests for the mutated strain were performed in Israel as of Wednesday night.

The new strain is not believed to be more deadly, but does spread much more easily.

Amid concerns over the new variant and a rise in daily infections, the government has approved a third national lockdown, which will take effect on Sunday.

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