COVID: What We Know About New Delta Strain That Could Lock Israel Down

A senior health official warned last week that a new strain of the Delta variant could force Israel into a lockdown.

“If it reaches Israel, we will arrive at the lockdown we desperately want to avoid,” Health Ministry director of the international relations department, Dr Asher Shalmon, told the Knesset’s Constitution and Law Committee , referring to AY3, which is said to have originated in South America and was first detected in the United States.

Two days later, the ministry announced that 10 cases of AY3 had been identified in Israel, eight among people recently returned from overseas and two who appear to have been infected within the country.

What do we know about AY3 and could it really be the straw that breaks the camel’s back and sends Israel into yet another lockdown?

“AY3 is a subtype of the Delta variant, which falls into the category of what we have called the Delta-Plus variants,” said Professor Cyrille Cohen, head of the immunotherapy laboratory at the University of Bar- Ilan. “All of them have a mutation called 417, which is believed to help the variant escape antibodies.”

All viruses tend to mutate constantly. While most mutations are harmless, one group of mutations can create a new variant, and the virus can create a different protein as a result. In the case of the coronavirus, the key protein to consider is the spike protein, which is found on the surface of the virus and allows it to enter host cells and cause infections.

The variants are of concern when they increase the transmissibility of the virus, as they tend to cause more severe symptoms or appear to be more resistant to antibodies.

“We saw that in May the strain was almost non-existent in the United States and now it accounts for about 13% of all cases nationwide, and in some individual states like Mississippi and Missouri, until at 43% -45% of cases, ”noted Cohen.

When asked if he thinks the variant has reached Israel and the country is at greater risk of lockdown, the professor said he doesn’t think we’ve reached that point yet.

“We need to closely monitor what is happening and see if it becomes widespread in Israel,” he said. “With the original Delta, we were in a similar situation: it was already in Israel in April, but it lay dormant until cases suddenly started to increase in June,” he said. .

Harel’s rescue flight brings back Israeli coronavirus patients from Iceland. (credit: IMA – Medical flights)
However, one problem Israel faces is that with 7,000 to 8,000 new carriers of the virus identified every day, the country is unable to take genetic sequences from all new cases, but only from a statistical sample, which does not allow the health authorities to keep the variants fully monitored.

“When we had fewer cases, we were able to sequence almost all of them,” Cohen said.

As to how much of a concern the variant is if it spreads, Cohen said it was too early to tell because information is still very limited.

“My impression is that when it comes to antibody protection, it won’t be an all-or-nothing problem, but rather we’ll keep some form of protection, even though the vaccine’s efficacy has been shown to be weaker. “Cohen said.

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