The Omicron variant of COVID-19 has landed in Israel, with as many as four cases currently, and health authorities are working diligently to determine whether the vaccines are effective against the new mutation and how rapidly this new one spreads.
Much remains unknown about Omicron. Researchers in the Netherlands announced Tuesday that the emerging strain actually was on the loose before the alarm was sounded in South Africa. Israeli medical sleuths are also working to track down the origins of the vastly mutated virus and put the viral puzzle pieces together.
While Israel has put travel bans in place, it appears that the variant is already spreading across the globe. There are confirmed cases in the US and Europe, as well as other parts of Africa.
New cases of COVID were down to 300 a day in South Africa in early November, but by mid-November, authorities saw a sharp rise in those numbers—first, it ballooned up to 4,300 new cases, then within 24 hours, there were 8,500 new cases reported. Those infected with Omicron seem to have mostly mild symptoms, and it tends to be affecting younger people. This is South Africa’s fourth wave of coronavirus.
There was good news being reported today for those who are vaccinated. South African doctors are reporting that the vaccine is preventing serious illness, but the antibodies from those who have recovered from Covid do not appear to provide the same protection.
Expert Anne von Gottberg from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases said, “We believe that previous infection does not provide protection from Omicron. We believe the number of cases will increase exponentially in all provinces of the country. We believe that vaccines will still, however, protect against severe disease.”
Israeli health authorities are confident that for those who have been vaccinated in the last six months or received a booster, Omicron will not be a big threat. Israel’s campaign to give injections to children ages 5-11 is rolling along and going faster than the earlier drive to vaccinate teens and preteens.
In an effort to clamp down on the spread of Omicron, Israel is using Shin Bet (like the FBI in the United States) to track and monitor anyone infected to make sure they comply with the quarantine rules. The move has received a lot of attention and push back, even within the government. Also, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett received some flak for taking a trip abroad with his family after urging all Israelis to be cautious and even refrain from traveling outside the Holy Land.