A unique study, the first of its kind in Israel, was carried out in which researchers used the unique genetic codes of coronavirus infections to trace their origin, Channel 12 News reported.
The study showed that the Israeli government’s decision not to ban US citizens from visiting Israel in the initial stages of the pandemic, a move criticized for being politically motivated, led to a significant increase in the spread of the coronavirus in Israel.
The study was based on the varying genetic codes of coronavirus infections, small mutations that provided researchers with a type of “bar code” that allowed them to trace how the virus spread.
The study proved that Israelis returning from the US or US tourists who arrived in Israel as the coronavirus was beginning to spread were far more responsible for the spread of the virus than arrivals from Europe – with about 70% of infections stemming from the US.
The study also showed that among those who arrived from the US, there were “super-spreaders” – virus carriers who visited many locations and didn’t always adhere to health ministry instructions. These “super-spreaders” – 5% of coronavirus carriers – led to 80% of the virus infections from US arrivals.
The many flights that entered Israel from New York had a significant effect on the spread of the virus, and researchers said there were two reasons for this. Firstly, the requirement for those returning from the States to self-quarantine was imposed too late, 39 days after flights from China were banned.
Secondly, even after the Health Ministry instructed all those arriving from abroad to self-quarantine, some arrivals from the States completely diregarded self-quarantine instructions.
Dr. Adi Stern, who carried out the research at Tel Aviv University told Channel 12 that the findings emphasize the necessity of border closures and social segregation in order to control the spread of a pandemic in Israel.
“What we learn from the study is that first of all, there’s great importance in closing borders,” Dr. Stern said. “If we’re discussing on [how we should behave] in the future, it’s very important to close borders the moment the entrance of a virus from outside [Israel] is identified. And the second thing [we learn] is the efficiency and effectiveness of a lockdown, which really accomplished its goal.”
According to the study, coronavirus infections that stemmed from Europe were mainly from Belgium (8%) and France (6%), followed by the UK (5%) and Spain, Italy, Australia, the Philippines and Russia.
Which countries weren’t responsible for the spread of the virus in Israel? Almost none of the cases were traced to China, the epicenter of the outbreak, to South Korea or even to Singapore, from where flights were banned at the early stages of the crisis.