Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was holding an emergency meeting with health officials on Wednesday evening in an effort to get in front of the latest coronavirus subvariant known as AY4.2.
Joining Bennett were Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, Health Ministry director general Nachman Ash, coronavirus czar Salman Zarka, director of the ministry’s public health services Sharon Alroy-Preis, and other health officials, over the emergence of the new subvariant, first detected in Britain, said the Prime Minister’s Office.
The first known case in Israel of AY4.2 was confirmed on Tuesday in a sample taken from a young boy who returned to Israel from Moldova, health officials said. The 11-year-old boy in question tested positive after arriving at Ben Gurion International Airport this week and was sent into isolation, according to Hebrew media reports.
Health officials are considering mandating quarantine for anyone who comes in contact with someone who tests positive for the AY4.2 subvariant, even if they are fully vaccinated and otherwise exempt from quarantine, Channel 12 said.
Anyone who enters Israel — regardless of their citizenship or vaccination status — must undergo a COVID PCR test before departing from a foreign country and after landing at Ben-Gurion Airport. On Tuesday, 19 people who entered the country tested positive, as did 22 on Monday and 27 on Sunday, representing less than 0.1% of all those who entered Israel each day.
The AY4.2 subvariant is being closely monitored by officials in the UK, and others have called for urgent research into the subvariant, though health officials say there is no evidence yet that it is driving the uptick in coronavirus cases in some places. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman said the government was keeping a “close eye” on the AY.4.2 variant, but said there was no evidence it spreads more easily.
Israel appears to be at the tail end of its fourth coronavirus wave, as new infections and serious cases have ticked down over the past few weeks. As of Wednesday evening, there were 343 serious COVID cases in Israel, down from close to 750 a month ago. Just 1.28% of those tested on Tuesday came back positive, a rate that stands at its lowest point since mid-July.
On average over the past month, 14 Israelis with COVID have died each day — a figure that has been trending downward in recent weeks — and 8,029 Israelis have died since the beginning of the outbreak.
Israel has been weighing reopening its borders to vaccinated tourists next month, something it has delayed numerous times throughout the year, as COVID infections waxed and waned. Since March 2020, Israel has been effectively shut to general tourism, allowing in only non-citizens granted special permission to enter.
Last month, it restarted a pilot program to allow in those vaccinated tourists who are part of organized tour groups, including Birthright Israel. But fears over a new subvariant of the disease could cause such plans to again be shelved or restricted.
Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.