GAZA: The Palestinian Health Ministry said on Sunday it had identified the first case of the omicron coronavirus variant in the Gaza Strip.
The carrier is a Gaza resident who was infected within the coastal territory, ministry official Majdi Dhair told a news conference.
Dhair said this meant the variant, first identified in southern Africa and Hong Kong last month, existed in Gaza and was now spreading among the population.
The discovery poses a new challenge to the enclave’s under-developed health system.
“We are ahead of difficult days. It is expected that the omicron variant will spread fast,” he told reporters.
Gaza, with a population of 2.2 million people, has registered 189,837 COVID-19 infections and 1,691 deaths.
Dhair urged Gazans to get vaccinated, putting the percentage of those who had already received shots at around 40 percent.
In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, three cases of omicron variant had been detected among Palestinians on Dec. 16 and the number had since risen to 23 among the 3.1 million population, Palestinian health authorities said.
In a separate development, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett went into isolation at home after his 14-year-old daughter tested positive for the coronavirus, his office said.
Bennett awaits the results of a COVID-19 PCR test.
Bennett left the weekly meeting of his Cabinet and headed home after learning of his daughter’s positive test, which came amid fast-spreading infections in Israel caused by the omicron variant.
The premier’s daughter had been vaccinated against COVID-19, his office said.
It did not disclose whether she had been infected by omicron or the delta variant also prevalent in Israel.
Before the Cabinet session began, Bennett, who had a vaccine booster shot on Aug. 20, and other members of his government took rapid antigen tests and received negative results.
Bennett drew public criticism after his wife and children went on holiday abroad early this month, despite his calls for Israelis to help stem Omicron’s spread by cancelling plans to fly overseas.
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