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Israel’s Omicron count rises to 21 as 10 more cases confirmed

Health Ministry says 5 of those infected weren’t recently abroad and contracted variant after contact with travelers from South Africa, US

Illustrative: A health care volunteer takes a swab sample from an Israeli woman at a testing center set up by Magen David Adom in the Golan Heights town of Katzrin, September 15, 2021. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)
Illustrative: A health care volunteer takes a swab sample from an Israeli woman at a testing center set up by Magen David Adom in the Golan Heights town of Katzrin, September 15, 2021. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)

The number of Omicron coronavirus variant cases confirmed by Israel rose Monday to 21, with the Health Ministry reporting 10 more infections in the past day.

According to the latest data, 16 of the cases were among people who returned from abroad, while five were detected in those who have not left the country recently, but came in contact with travelers from South Africa and the United States.

Those who were overseas arrived from South Africa, Britain, the US and United Arab Emirates, a Health Ministry statement said.

The statement made no mention of a Malawian tourist, who was one of the first two Omicron cases confirmed in Israel. It was not immediately clear why the Malawian woman was not mentioned.

The ministry said that of the 21 cases, 13 were “fully protected,” which Israel defines as anyone who got a booster shot, or those who have recovered from COVID-19 or received their initial two vaccine doses within the past six months.

The Health Ministry also said it was waiting for the final test results of another 21 suspected cases of the Omicron variant.

Among the confirmed and suspected cases, the ministry reported five of those who are protected have symptoms and 10 listed as unprotected do not. No details were provided on the nature of the symptoms or the severity of the infections.

Arriving travelers walk to the COVID-19 testing area at Ben Gurion International Airport on November 28, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The emergence of Omicron, first detected in South Africa, has prompted global travel bans and led Israel to again shut its doors to foreigners. The government also tightened quarantine rules for fully immunized Israelis returning to the country and approved phone tracking of suspected virus carriers, a controversial measure that has since lapsed.

On Sunday, the government approved requiring preschoolers and children in grades 1-6 to present a negative rapid antigen test for COVID-19 when returning to the classroom after the Hanukkah vacation this week.

Even as concerns remain over the variant, Israel’s coronavirus statistics have been on an encouraging trajectory, with the virus reproduction rate dropping below 1 to 0.98 over the weekend. However, it has since ticked back up to 1.02 on Sunday, though it dipped slightly to 1.01 on Monday.

The figure represents the number of people each confirmed patient infects, on average. Any number below 1 signifies that the pandemic is contracting.

Health Ministry data figures showed that 521 people were diagnosed with COVID on Sunday, when 0.6 percent of the over 95,000 tests performed came back positive.

The number of patients in serious condition stood at 112, while the death toll remained at 8,204.

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