Scientists Say If Israel Can Do It, So Can Others

YERUSHALAYIM -
A health care worker takes covid test samples at a drive-through complex in Netanya. (Chen Leopold/Flash90)

A new study at Tel Aviv University has found that the British variant (termed: B.1.1.7) of Covid-19 is 45% more contagious than the original virus. The researchers relied on data from about 300,000 PCR tests for Covid-19 obtained from the COVID-19 testing lab, which was established in collaboration with the Electra Group.

The Electra-TAU laboratory was established in March 2020, right after the outbreak of the first wave of the pandemic in Israel. To date, it has analyzed hundreds of thousands of tests from all over the country.

Prof. Ariel Munitz explains: “We use a kit that tests for three different viral genes. In the British variant, also known as B.1.1.7, one of these genes, the S gene, has been erased by the mutation. Consequently, we were able to track the spread of the variant even without genetic sequencing.”

According to Prof. Munitz, the data from the lab shows that the spread of the British variant was very rapid: On December 24, 2020 only 5% of the positive results were attributed to the British variant. Just six weeks later, in January 2021, this variant was responsible for 90% of Covid-19 cases in Israel. The current figure is about 99.5%.

“To explain this dramatic increase, we compared the R number of the SARS-CoV-2 virus with the R of the British variant. In other words, we posed the question: How many people, on the average, contract the disease from every person who has either variant? We found that the British variant is 45% – almost 1.5 times – more contagious.”

Dr. Dan Yemin said: “Due to crowded conditions, large households and age distribution in the Israeli population, the coronavirus had a more favorable environment for spreading in Israel compared to most Western countries. Our message to the world is that if with our problematic starting point a distinct decline was identified, other Western countries can certainly expect the curve to break – despite the high contagion of the British variant – with a dramatic drop in severe cases following the vaccination of 50% of the older population, alongside targeted testing at risk epicenters.”