Israel has reported its first COVID-19 case involving a ‘worrying’ new coronavirus variant that’s spreading fast in southern Africa

A masked woman wearing a purple shirt is getting vaccinated by a man in scrubs wearing a mask in front of an Israeli flag
An Israeli woman receives a third Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in Ramat Ha Sharon on July 30, 2021. AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner
  • Israel has reported its first COVID-19 case involving a “worrying” new coronavirus variant.
  • The B.1.1.529 variant was detected in a person traveling to Israel from Malawi, the Israeli health ministry said.
  • The variant, which appears to have emerged in southern Africa, is concerning experts.

Israel has identified its first COVID-19 case involving a “worrying” new coronavirus variant that is spreading fast in southern Africa.

The variant, known as B.1.1.529, was found in an individual who returned to Israel from Malawi, Israel’s health ministry announced Friday.

Two other people who have returned from abroad could also be carrying the coronavirus variant, the ministry said. They have been put in quarantine, the ministry said.

Health officials in South Africa said Thursday that 82 cases of the B.1.1.529 variant had been detected in South Africa, Botswana, and Hong Kong, Insider’s Dr Catherine Schuster-Bruce reported.

The variant has a high number of mutations in a combination that experts haven’t seen before, per Insider’s report.

Experts are concerned the variant’s unusual mutations may make it more infectious and able to escape antibodies produced by vaccines and in antibody treatments.

The B.1.1.529 variant has spread rapidly across South Africa, becoming the most common cause of new COVID-19 cases in fewer than two weeks, according to a graph tweeted by the director of the country’s Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation.

Ravi Gupta, a professor of clinical microbiology at Cambridge University, said on Twitter on Wednesday that the new coronavirus variant was “worrying, and I’ve not said that since Delta.” 

Israel announced on Thursday that it was restricting travel to and from southern Africa because of the B.1.1.529 variant, Reuters reported.

Israel has reported more than 1.3 million COVID-19 cases and over 8,000 deaths since January 2020, according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO).