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COVID: What we know about the new Delta strain could lock Israel down

CM 22/08/2021

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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 get to the lockdown that we so desperately want to avoid,” Health Ministry Department of International Relations Director Dr. Asher Shalmon told the Knesset Law and Constitution Committee, referring to AY3, which is believed to have originated in South America and was first detected in the US.
Just two days later, the ministry announced that 10 cases of AY3 had been identified in Israel, eight among people who had recently returned from abroad and two who appear to have become infected in 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 another lockdown?
“AY3 is a subtype of the Delta variant, which falls under the category of what we have called the Delta-Plus variants,” Prof. Cyrille Cohen, head of the immunotherapy laboratory at Bar-Ilan University, said. “All of them present a mutation called 417, which is suspected to help the variant to escape antibodies.”
All viruses tend to constantly mutate. While most mutations have no consequences, a cluster of mutations can engender a new variant, and the virus may create a different protein as a consequence. 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 penetrate host cells and cause infections.
Variants are a concern when they increase the transmissibility of the virus, as they tend to elicit more serious symptoms or appear to be more resistant to antibodies.
“We saw that as of May the strain was almost non-existent in the US and now it represents around 13% of all cases in the whole country, and in some individual states like Mississippi and Missouri, as many as 43%-45% of the cases,” Cohen noted.
Asked whether he thinks that the variant has reached Israel and the country is more at risk of a lockdown, the professor said he doesn’t think we have reached that point yet.
“We have to follow what happens closely and see if it will become prevalent in Israel,” he said. “With the original Delta we were in a similar situation: It was already in Israel in April, but it remained dormant until suddenly cases started to go up in June,” he said.
 Harel rescue flight brings Israeli coronavirus patients back from Iceland. (credit: IMA - Medical flights) Harel rescue flight brings Israeli coronavirus patients back from Iceland. (credit: IMA – Medical flights)
However, a problem that Israel is facing is that with 7,000-8,000 new virus carriers identified every day, the country is not managing to carry out genetic sequences of all new cases, but only of a statistical sample, which does not allow health authorities to keep variants fully monitored.
“When we had fewer cases, we managed to sequence almost all of them,” Cohen said.
As to how much of a concern the variant is if it were to spread, Cohen said it is too early to tell since information is still very limited.
“My impression is that when it comes to antibody protection, it is not going to be an all-or-nothing issue, but rather we are going to retain some form of protection, even if the efficacy of the vaccine turned out to be lower,” Cohen said.

Source: Jerusalem Post

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