New Covid variant puts Israel 'on verge of state of emergency'


JERUSALEM, ISRAEL - OCTOBER 12: Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks at the Jerusalem Post's annual coference on October 12, 2021 in Jerusalem, Israel. The conference featured officials, diplomats and business leaders discussing the health, economic and security challenges facing Israel. (Photo by Amir Levy/Getty Images)

Israel is on “the verge of a state of emergency”, PM Naftali Bennett warned today as the country recorded its first case of a "highly contagious" new Covid-19 strain. 

The strain first detected in South Africa and that emerged in several neighbouring countries was also discovered in an Israeli traveller returning from Malawi, health officials said Friday. 

Two others suspected of being infected with the strain are in quarantine and awaiting confirmation. All three were vaccinated, though officials did not confirm further details.

Mr Bennett said the new variant was “highly contagious” and that it spread more quickly than the Delta strain. 

Israel’s “main principle right now is to act fast and strong and now,” he said.

Under new restrictions revealed Thursday, all foreign nationals travelling from South Africa and six other destinations will be barred from entering Israel. 

The UK announced similar measures yesterday, with all flights from South Africa and five other nearby countries grounded from today.

The World Health Organsiation has called a special meeting for today to discuss the new variant, currently known as B.1.1.529.

Scientists are concerned after finding that it has more than 30 changes to the spike protein that recognises host cells and is the main target of the body’s immune responses.

The changes could make it more infectious than previous strains and reduce the effectiveness of vaccines in current use.

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