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Israel’s health ministry said on Friday it had confirmed seven cases of the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus, amid fears of a pending increase in infections. Four of the confirmed cases are non-vaccinated individuals who had recently returned from South Africa.


The other three include two people who returned from South Africa and the UK and received two doses of the Pfizer-BioEntech vaccine and a booster shot. The third person had returned from Malawi and was vaccinated against AstraZeneca.

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Israel was one of the first countries to close its borders to all non-Israeli citizens after the first case of the Omicron variant was discovered last week. Israelis from abroad are allowed to return home.

The ministry said it has “high suspicion” that the 27 other identified cases of coronavirus are also new variants. Eight of them are persons who had either traveled abroad or were in contact with recent arrivals who have tested positive for Omicron.

FILE – A health worker tests passengers for COVID-19.

related: O’Micron: WHO says measures used against Delta should work for new version

The rest could not be linked to foreign travel – a sign that the Omicron variant may now be spreading to Israel’s towns and cities.

On Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett – together with Israel’s Ministry of Health – laid out a set of new measures designed to stop the spread of the Omicron variant. These include fines of 2,500 shekels, or about $790, to repatriate Israeli travelers who fail to take a second PCR test, as well as initiatives by schools and local authorities to promote vaccination.

Israel had announced that it would use the country’s controversial phone tracking technology to help trace possible cases of the new coronavirus variant. However, that plan was put on hold on Thursday after widespread criticism that it would infringe on the privacy rights of individuals.

Israel, a country of more than 9 million people, has reported 8,199 deaths from the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic. Most of its population – more than 6.3 million people – have received at least one dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and more than 4 million Israelis have received a booster.