Israeli health officials have detected a worrying rise in coronavirus cases in children and teenagers, according to data seen Sunday by Yedioth Ahronoth, Ynet's sister publication.
Since the beginning of the year, 51,218 cases were confirmed in patients under the age of 18 - an increase from the approximately 34,000 cases during the second wave of the virus and 93 times the number recorded during the first wave.
There are currently five children hospitalized in Israel in critical condition, more than in any other month since the start of the pandemic.
Since the beginning of January, 138 children have been hospitalized, nine of them in serious or critical condition.
Health officials say they are unable to explain the rise in cases in young patients, but think it may be attributed to the new variants of the virus now spreading quickly among the population.
Coronavirus czar Prof. Nachman Ash said he believes the spread of the new variants is behind the worrying rise.
"Reports out of Britain indicate more cases among children and I think we may be seeing the same here," he said, adding that he sees no other possible explanation.
Prof. Cyrille Cohen, head of the immunotherapy lab at Bar-Ilan University, agreed.
"The British variant is more contagious," he said. "Now, with this variant increases the chances of children contracting the virus, but it is still just a hypothesis."
Israeli on Saturday began vaccinating 11th and 12th graders, a move that was expected to contribute to a reduction in contagion.
However, officials warned that if morbidity continued to spread the lockdown imposed on January 1 may have to be extended past its expiry date at the end of the month.