Israel PM warns state of emergency over new coronavirus variant
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Friday said the country is currently on the verge of a state of emergency. His statement came after Israel reported its first case of a new, heavily-mutated strain of the coronavirus. Currently known as B.1.1.529, the variant was first identified in Botswana and is most prevalent in South Africa. Here are more details on this.
- Bennett's warning is so far the most stringent by a world leader with regards to the B1.1.529 variant.
- But several countries have started imposing travel restrictions to and from a number of African nations in view of the variant.
- Experts say there are already signs the strain spreads fast and possibly evades immunity.
- They, however, add it is too early to draw clear conclusions.
"We are currently at the threshold of an emergency situation," Bennett said at a meeting with Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz and experts. "Our overriding principle at the moment is to take quick and strong action, now, especially regarding entry to - and exit from - Israel, until the situation becomes clearer," he said, according to a statement released by the Prime Minister's Office.
The first case of the strain in Israel was detected after a person arrived from the East African country of Malawi. Two others were suspected of being infected with the same variant and their test results were awaited. All three were vaccinated, the Israeli Health Ministry said. Bennett, meanwhile, has also ordered the purchase of test kits that can better detect the strain.
The infection came despite Israel's attempts to prevent the strain from reaching the country. On Thursday, Bennett had ordered travel restrictions to and from several countries in southern Africa. South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, and Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) were added to the country's "red" list, effectively banning foreigners coming from there to enter Israel.
B.1.1.529 has some 50 mutations, including more than 30 in the spike protein alone. South Africa has reported just above 50 cases of the strain but there are concerns the actual tally could be higher. Cases have also been detected in Hong Kong. A World Health Organization (WHO) technical team will meet on Friday to discuss the variant.
India's Union Health Ministry had, on Thursday, asked states to rigorously screen and test travelers coming from or transiting through the countries where the variant has been identified. "This variant is reported to have a significantly high number of mutations, and thus, has serious public health implications for the country, in view of recently relaxed visa restrictions," Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said.