A senior health official said Tuesday that COVID confirmed cases in South Africa multiply every three days, most likely due to the spread of the new highly mutated strain.
Israel on Saturday became the first country in the world to completely shut its borders to all foreign tourists after the coronavirus cabinet approved a host of measures in an effort to contain the so-called Omicron variant of COVID-19.
Speaking to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Health Ministry's Head of Public Health Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis said Omicron as 15 mutations strategically located, making it more contagious than any of the previous strains.
"The rise from 200 to 2,000 cases of coronavirus caused by the Omicron variant, seen in South Africa in the past 10 days, means the case load multiplies every three days, indicating one carrier infects many others - some vaccinated and some not,"Alroy-Preis said.
"Our information is that vaccinated people do not suffer significant symptoms and suffer only a mild illness – but this is only preliminary data."
She told the committee that more information on the efficacy of vaccines is expected later on Tuesday.
"The abundance of mutations makes this an unusual event, and the use of Shin Bet monitoring is one of the tools available to health authorities to cut contagion chains and buys us more time to protect our public," Alroy-Preis said.
According to the senior official, the epidemiological investigation of the two confirmed carriers of Omicron in Israel revealed 42 other people who could have been exposed to the new variant, in addition to the 186 found earlier.
"Intensive questioning is being done but people have a limited memory of possible contacts made. For example, the first carrier who was confirmed, gave wrong information on the bus she used to get to Eilat. That is the part of the challenges we face in this pandemic."
In the meantime, the number of suspected Omicron cases in Israel has risen to 34, according to data from the Home Front Command.