A senior Israeli health official said on Monday the latest data on the Omicron coronavirus variant indicated that children contract the strain at a higher rate.
Israel on Sunday confirmed its first infection of the new variant contracted via community spread, putting the country's Omicron caseload to 11. According to the Health Ministry, the patient was diagnosed with the strain after coming in contact with another confirmed Omicron carrier who returned from South Africa, where the new variant was first reported.
In an interview with Ynet, Prof. Ash said the country will maintain the current health restrictions for the time being. "Looking at the existing data there is no basis for the lifting of measures," he said.
"In my opinion, if the situation remains as it is, we will need to prolong restrictions until we have more information. We still cannot say with certainty that the vaccine protects against the variant and therefore cannot lift restrictions on entry of vaccinated people to Israel."
Health officials also reported on Monday that the virus' preproduction number (R) once again rose to above 1, having decreased in the past few days.
Ash said that he was worried by reports coming out of South Africa, indicating the variant infects those who have recovered from the virus at a higher rate than previous mutations in addition to young children.
"This data is still being investigated, but it is very worrying," he said. "This is why we need to continue efforts to halt the new variant's spread in Israel. Both from outside the country's border and within."
When asked about the slow pace of the pediatric vaccination campaign, with only 6% of Israeli children inoculated since its start two weeks ago, Ash said that officials are troubled by it, but believed as time passes and parents see that the jab is safe, more will bring their kids to receive the shot.
"There is also the threat on a new infection wave coming up, therefore we need to increase all efforts to also raise the rate of booster vaccinations, in addition to vaccinating children," he said.