Nearly 300 BA.2 cases found in Israel; health official denies Omicron reinfections

Sharon Alroy-Preis contradicts reports that claim people who recovered from original variant have been diagnosed with new subvariant

Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of public health services at the Health Ministry, speaks during a press conference in Jerusalem about new coronavirus restrictions, December 12, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of public health services at the Health Ministry, speaks during a press conference in Jerusalem about new coronavirus restrictions, December 12, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Some 300 cases of the new BA.2 COVID-19 variant have been detected in Israel, primarily among people returning from abroad, Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of public health services at the Health Ministry, said on Wednesday.

“There are currently 297 cases with the new BA.2 variant,” Alroy-Preis said at a meeting of the Knesset Health Committee.

Dismissing reports by Channel 12 and the Kan public broadcaster on Tuesday pointing to several cases of people being reinfected with the new BA.2 strain after having the original Omicron variant, she said the Health Ministry was not aware of any cases of reinfection among those who have recovered from Omicron.

“There was not one case of reinfection among those who have recovered from Omicron,” Alroy-Preis said.

“For someone who has recently recovered, contracting a relatively similar virus” is unlikely, as the new strain “needs to be different enough that the antibodies that helped him recover would not protect him,” she explained, adding that “at this point we don’t know of such a case.”

The new variant has raised concerns just as Israel appeared poised to begin to put a massive wave of Omicron-fueled infections behind it. However, while case numbers have begun to ebb, the number of seriously ill patients has remained high, and the death toll has continued to climb.

During a meeting Tuesday of the coronavirus cabinet, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett warned that Israel “can expect another difficult week and a half.”

The coronavirus cabinet meets at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, June 23, 2021. (Kobi Gideon / GPO)

Prof. Eran Segal of the Weizmann Institute, a top government adviser on the pandemic, presented data on the BA.2 variant at the meeting.

Ahead of the meeting, Segal, a computational biologist, told Kan: “It seems that it is more contagious, even more so than the Omicron; however, it appears not to cause illness that is more serious than [the original] Omicron.”

“Although we are after the peak of the disease, the chances of infection are still high and we need to be careful,” he said. “We can be optimistic, though, as we are seeing a decrease in infections.”

The cabinet voted on Tuesday to narrow the application of the “Green Pass” vaccination certificate, ruling that it will only be required at “high-risk” events.

Under the new guidelines, which will take effect at midnight on Sunday night, proof of vaccination or a negative test will only be required at weddings and similar celebrations, as well as in clubs and at large parties.

The cabinet also voted to extend for a further month the requirement for all incoming travelers to present a negative COVID test before boarding a flight to Israel and to undergo another test upon landing.

Health Ministry statistics published Wednesday evening showed that 60,359 people tested positive for COVID-19 the previous day out of 230,908 tests conducted, bringing the total number of active cases in the country to 430,694.

Some 1,112 patients were in serious condition as of Wednesday evening, compared to 1,133 the previous day.

A total of 8,927 Israelis have died from COVID-19 since the outbreak of the pandemic.

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