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New combo COVID strain Deltacron detected in Israel, report says

First ‘recombination’ variant of the coronavirus, uniting aspects of Delta and Omicron, said found in Israeli samples

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

Illustrative image: A technician collects a nasal swab sample for COVID-19 at the coronavirus lab, at the Ben-Gurion International Airport on March 02, 2022. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
Illustrative image: A technician collects a nasal swab sample for COVID-19 at the coronavirus lab, at the Ben-Gurion International Airport on March 02, 2022. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Israel has detected cases of a new COVID variant that is a hybrid of Delta and Omicron, according to national broadcaster Kan.

The network reported on Monday night that the variant surfaced in swab samples that were sequenced in labs. The Hebrew-language report has not been confirmed by the Health Ministry.

According to Kan, a limited number of cases have been detected among people who returned from Europe, and there is no community spread.

World Health Organization COVID-19 technical lead, epidemiologist Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, an infectious disease epidemiologist, spoke about the variant last week, acknowledging a stain that combines Delta and Omicron. She noted that it has been detected in a few countries, including France and the Netherlands, but at low levels.

The variant has been in circulation in Europe for around two months, and so far has not shown signs of spreading faster, according to Van Kerkhove, though this is still under investigation.

Israeli experts say that this variant is par for the course. “The emergence of the variant isn’t surprising — and neither is the fact that it would reach Israel from Europe, as there is lots of travel to Tel Aviv,” immunologist Prof. Cyrille Cohen, of Bar Ilan University, told The Times of Israel.

Illustrative image: A medical worker processes a rapid antigen test for the coronavirus (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

“So far, the variants we saw were altered forms of one previous COVID strain, while this is a combination of two. It demonstrates the feasibility of the ‘recombination’ concept, meaning that two different strains can combine into one. This was, so far, theoretical with COVID.”

He said the development isn’t cause for particular concern, given there are no indications that the new strain causes worse illness than others — and said that based on its slow spread so far, he doesn’t expect it to become dominant. “Since it wasn’t able to overcome Omicron or other variants in the weeks it has existed, it doesn’t seem that it can, for now, spread widely in the population,” he said.

Discussing the concept of recombination, Cohen commented: “So far, the variants we knew were the results of gradual mutations in individual spots in the viral genome — the genetic code composed of 30,000 letters — meaning one letter here and one letter there. With a recombinant variant whole chunks of two viral genomes get combined. We knew early on that recombination is possible in coronaviruses.”

Van Kerkhove said at last week’s briefing: “The recombinant, itself, this is something that is expected given the large amount of circulation… that we saw with both Omicron and Delta.”

She added: “We have not seen any change in the epidemiology with this recombinant, we haven’t seen any change in severity, but there are many studies that are underway.”

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