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Fears mount that strain spreading undetected

Officials stumped by source of NY variant in Israel; 1st cases uncooperative

Shin Bet unable to identify source of strain or new infections stemming from 3 members of Jerusalem family; early US research suggests mutation may weaken vaccine efficacy

Illustrative -- Healthcare workers take test samples in a drive-thru complex at the Golani Interchange, March 4, 2021 (David Cohen/Flash90)
Illustrative -- Healthcare workers take test samples in a drive-thru complex at the Golani Interchange, March 4, 2021 (David Cohen/Flash90)

Officials are unable to trace the source of the first three cases of the so-called New York variant of the coronavirus found in Israel because the infected individuals have refused to cooperate with epidemiological investigators, Army Radio reported Monday.

The three cases were all in the same Jerusalem family. They contracted the virus mutation in Israel.

According to the report, the Shin Bet’s controversial surveillance program has also been unable to pinpoint the source of the infection or any possible new cases stemming from the family.

Kan News reported last week that officials are concerned the variant could already be spreading undetected in Israel.

Illustrative — People on Jaffa Street in downtown Jerusalem on March 3, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Two research groups — at Caltech and Columbia University in New York — released papers last month describing their findings regarding the New York variant.

Neither paper has been published or reviewed by other scientists. But both groups noted that the new variant has a mutation that could potentially weaken the effectiveness of vaccines.

They also found patients infected with the mutated virus, first detected in late November, were more likely to be older and have been hospitalized.

Viruses are constantly mutating as they spread and make copies of themselves. Some genetic tweaks can be concerning, especially if they help the virus spread more easily, make it more deadly or curb the effectiveness of vaccines. Scientists use genome sequencing and other research to figure out which are potential problems.

A man walks by an empty retail store, left, that is available for rent, Feb. 8, 2021, during the coronavirus pandemic in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

New variants have been showing up throughout the pandemic, but three have so far been considered the most worrisome and been designated “variants of concern.” They were first detected in Britain, South Africa and Brazil but have spread to other countries.

The highly contagious British mutation now accounts for almost all new coronavirus infections in Israel.

The government on Sunday lifted some restrictions on air travel to the country, enabling thousands of citizens to return home and doing away with the need to quarantine in state-run hotels. Air travel had been greatly curtailed in an effort to prevent travelers from bringing new strains of the coronavirus into the country.

Additionally, some foreign nationals are permitted to enter Israel on condition they receive permission from a government committee before they travel.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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