Photo Credit: Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90
The empty departures hall at Ben Gurion Airport, March 10, 2020.

On Saturday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demanded the immediate and complete lockdown of Ben Gurion International Airport in order to prevent new mutations from entering Israel. His cabinet debated the cessation of flights for tourist purposes to a minimum.

The cabinet is going to compel whoever wants to fly to any destination abroad to appear before an exceptions committee, even after the end of the lockdown and until further notice. In addition, the cabinet is expected to terminate the flights to Dubai, including for business, due to the infestation of the South African mutation in the UAE. Ben Gurion Airport is preparing for a partial lockdown in the next 48 hours.

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The IDF Military Intelligence Directorate (Aman) warned on Saturday night that the speedy vaccination campaign for Corona—in order to keep up with the current outbreak in Israel—could lead to an Israeli mutation of the virus that would be resistant to the available vaccines.

A document from the Aman Information and Knowledge Center recommends treating the vaccinated and recovering individuals in a similar way: they, too, must be tested and may even be sent to quarantine. The document warns that this population could be infected with a “problematic mutation,” meaning one that can cope with the vaccine, and they may spread their evolved virus in the community.

Aman officials suggest taking steps to reduce morbidity to a minimum, and monitoring the development of localized versions of the virus through extensive genetic examinations. The document reads: “The mass vaccination operation that takes place in parallel with an active outbreak in the country may lead to an ‘evolutionary pressure’ on the virus, a condition that could cause mutations that give viruses a certain advantage over the vaccine and if this takes place they would spread significantly in the population.”

Israelis receive the Covid-19 vaccine at a Maccabi Health vaccination center in Givatayim, January 20, 2021. / Miriam ALster/Flash90

Professor Ran Blitzer, a member of the Health Ministry’s epidemic treatment team, said in an interview on Kan 11 Saturday night that the British South African strains are already responsible for more than 40% of the infections in Israel.

“When we leave the current (third) lockdown we will encounter a disease that is a little different from what we knew in the second lockdown because the coefficient of infection will be higher. The vaccination campaign needs to be accelerated,” Professor Blitzer recommended, adding, “We should remember that receiving the vaccine, even the second dose, is not a bulletproof vest that makes us immune. There is no full protection. We must remain vigilant.”

Blitzer said that “Much more needs to be done at Ben Gurion Airport, and it should have been done a long time ago. “We must enforce isolation more properly.”

The head of the public health services, Dr. Sharon Elrai-Price, told Reshet Bet radio on Thursday: “Viruses naturally mutate. Only after there are several mutations and a fundamentally different strain is created, do you suddenly see that a change in the pandemic where the strain is developing. It takes a few weeks. Clearly, just as a variant comes from England, a variant can develop in Israel.”

The Health Ministry announced on Saturday night that in light of the increase in the serious and critical morbidity of pregnant women in recent weeks, it now promotes the vaccination of pregnant women, who will be given a preference in receiving the vaccines, and any pregnant woman of any age who is interested can get vaccinated. The decision follows the discovery of about ten positive tests from pregnant women who were infected with Covid-19 at the Health Ministry’s central laboratory. Six out of seven pregnant women carried the UK mutation.

The Corona vaccination campaign was expanded on Saturday to 11th and 12th-grade teenagers. The HMOs have announced that they would start vaccinating their insured members who were born in the years 2004-2003. Clalit, Israel’s largest HMO, announced that starting Saturday night, girls and boys born in those two years will be able to get vaccinated without an appointment.

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.