Health Ministry seeks hotel quarantine for Brazil travelers over variant fears

The Health Ministry on Thursday called for travelers coming from Brazil to quarantine at state-run facilities due to concerns over a coronavirus variant believed to come from the South American country.

“Recently it was reported that the variant from Brazil was also discovered in Japan among those returning from Brazil. This variant also has mutations that could be significant in terms of the rate of infection,” a ministry statement.

The ministry said it would recommend the government require Israelis coming from Brazil to quarantine at state-managed hotels.

“We must do everything in our power to stop the entry and spread of [virus] variations to Israel,” it said.

Concerns over the new strain have grown after it was detected last week in Japan among four travelers coming from Brazil.

According to the World Health Organization, “this variant has 12 mutations to the spike protein, including three mutations of concern in common with VOC 202012/01 and 501Y.V2,” referring respectively to strains found in Britain and South Africa.

It said the mutations “may impact transmissibility and host immune response.”

The WHO also said researchers in Brazil had additionally reported the emergence of a similar variant, which had likely evolved independently of the variant detected in Japan.

Crosses, red balloons and Brazilian nation flags are placed in the sand on Copacabana beach in a demonstration organized by Rio de Paz to honor the victims of COVID-19, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, August 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

No cases of the Brazilian variant have been reported in Israel. As of Wednesday, eight cases of the South African variant have been founded in the country, according to the Health Ministry, which has also detected dozens of cases of the British mutation.

Starting last Friday and effective at least until January 17, Israelis returning from South Africa must quarantine at state-run hotels to prevent the spread of a coronavirus mutation detected there. Travelers from neighboring Botswana, Zambia and Lesotho are also required to isolate at hotels.

The government last month briefly mandated all returning travelers to quarantine at state-managed facilities amid fears over the British mutation, but quickly scrapped the requirement.

Police at a temporary checkpoint at Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City on January 14, 2021, during a third national coronavirus lockdown. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Health Ministry has said that while the variants are more transmissible, they don’t cause a more dangerous illness.

The mutations have been blamed for the increased spread of coronavirus in countries facing outbreaks and there are concerns the strains may render certain vaccines less effective.

The Health Ministry said Thursday that the effectiveness of vaccines against the Brazilian variant is also being examined.

Israel is currently in a third national lockdown amid record daily infections and a major surge in COVID-19 fatalities. The country is also in the midst of a major vaccine drive and is leading the world in number of people vaccinated per capita, according to the Oxford University-based Our World In Data.

AFP contributed to this report.

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