B.1.1.529: Israel reports its first confirmed case of new B.1.1.529 coronavirus variant

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Israel’s Ministry of Health has confirmed that the newly discovered variant of coronavirus, i.e., B.1.1.529 has been identified in the country.

The traveller returned from Malawi and the ministry has said that in addition, two more returnees are also suspected to be infected by the new variant which was first detected in southern Africa. The two returnees are in isolation while results of genetic sequencing are awaited. The ministry has also said that all three persons have been vaccinated against Covid-19.

Health officials have said that the new Covid-19 variant is mainly affecting people in the under 25 age group, among whom the vaccination rate against the virus is only 26 per cent. Twenty-two positive cases of the variant have been recorded in the country following genomic sequencing collaborations between the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), a division of the National Health Laboratory Service, and private laboratories. In addition, other NGS-SA laboratories are confirming more cases as sequencing results come out.

To curb the spread of the new variant, EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said in a tweet on Friday that the European Union aims to stop air travel from the southern African region amid rising concern about the new COVID-19 variant.

“The Commission will propose, in close coordination with Member States, to activate the emergency brake to stop air travel from the southern African region due to the variant of concern B.1.1.529,” she said. The variant has a “very unusual constellation” of mutations, which are concerning because they could help it evade the body’s immune response and make it more transmissible, South African scientists say.

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