Israeli authorities say they have identified the first case of a new coronavirus variant — known as “delta plus” — as the number of serious COVID-19 cases doubled in a week.
The country also reported its first deaths from coronavirus complications in a fortnight, as an unvaccinated man aged 48 and vaccinated 86-year-old died in hospital on Wednesday.
The new variant was identified in an unnamed woman who had arrived from abroad. She had been vaccinated and is now awaiting the result of a COVID-19 test, Haaretz reported.
Another person who came into contact with the passenger is also in isolation pending a test result.
The Health Ministry says there are now 46 serious coronavirus cases in Israel, twice as many compared to the week before, while the number of active cases now stands at 3,568.
The spread of the virus has gained pace as Israel relaxed restrictions on social distancing and wearing masks following a successful vaccination programme among adults.
But authorities say it is still not clear whether the “delta plus” strain, which like the widespread delta strain was first identified in India, poses a greater risk.
It comes as some Israeli parents debate whether to vaccinate their children.
Ran Balicer, chairman of the national advisory team on COVID-19, said children and adolescents make up the majority of unvaccinated people, but that the disease could still be contained with a combination of measures and restrictions.
He told Reuters last week: “We are well aware here in Israel that the Delta strain has proven to be able to disseminate even in relatively well vaccinated countries and because of its high transmissibility and its high basic reproductive number, outbreaks should be expected.”
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