Nearly 50 suspected cases of the British mutation were discovered by the laboratory at Shamir Medical Center in Be’er Ya’akov, including among people who had not left the country.Another 19 were discovered at a lab in southern Israel, Channel 13 reported. And Health Ministry officials have said they suspect there could be many more people sick with the mutated virus across the country.According to Dr. Adina Bar-Chaim, head of Shamir’s laboratories, the first two suspicious cases were discovered last Saturday after lab workers processed certain samples and discovered that one of the genes that normally is revealed in a positive case did not come up.“The people definitely had COVID-19,” Bar-Chaim told The Jerusalem Post, but she said that Gene S was not as prevalent as usual in the results. First, the lab re-ran the tests and confirmed that there were no processing mistakes. When they saw everything was working, “one of the ideas that came up was that this was the mutation.”Bar-Chaim sent those samples and all subsequent ones to the Health Ministry’s Central Virology Laboratory at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer where they underwent deep sequencing, also known as next-generation genetic sequencing. Of the first 10 samples, two of them were found to have the British mutation. The Health Ministry has since instructed all laboratory managers to pay special attention to the change when using this particular kit for detecting the virus and to pass on additional cases to the lab.
The mutation is thought to be highly infectious – as much as 70% more than the standard strain. Bar-Chaim is not an epidemiologist but said that she does believe there are a number of areas in the country where the mutation has spread, including likely Bnei Brak where there has been an inexplicable and rapid spike in cases in recent weeks.Over Shabbat alone, there were 2,000 new cases diagnosed among the ultra-Orthodox population, the Health Ministry reported, hundreds more than the week before. More than 600 were diagnosed in Jerusalem and many in Beit Shemesh, Beitar Illit, Bnei Brak and Petah Tikva, as well.”The large increase in the number of cases in the ultra-Orthodox population since last Saturday is dangerous,” said Muawiya Kabha, a senior coordinator of the ministry. “I appeal to everyone in the ultra-Orthodox population to follow the guidelines of the Health Ministry, do not act with complacency and contempt, this war belongs to all of us and only together will we win.”It is important to note that health officials do believe that the Pfizer vaccine will work against the mutation and is still encouraging all people eligible to be vaccinated.The Health Ministry reported that more than 210,000 people had been inoculated by Friday, mostly medical personnel, and seniors over the age of 60.