Doctor who was one of the first people in the world to be infected with the Omicron variant says he believes he caught the virus while in London for a major medical conference attended by more than 1,200 professionals of health.
Elad Maor’s disclosure will raise fears that the variant may have been in the UK much sooner than previously thought – and that other doctors may have been exposed to it as well.
In an exclusive interview with The Guardian, Maor, a cardiologist at Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv, described how he returned to Israel on November 23 after the three-day meeting at ExCeL London, a large convention center in Newham, in. east London. He began to experience symptoms within days and tested positive on November 27.
It is believed that the time between exposure and the onset of symptoms (called the incubation period) can be up to 14 days, although symptoms usually appear within five days of exposure.
The 45-year-old father of three and associate professor of cardiology at Tel Aviv University arrived in London on November 19 and spent four nights at a hotel in Islington, north London. Maor has so far exhibited mild symptoms of Covid-19, including fever, muscle pain and a sore throat.
Speaking to the Guardian from his home in Israel, where he is self-isolating, Maor also said he likely infected a 69-year-old colleague with the virus after returning from London. The colleague has since tested positive for the Omicron variant.
Although he cannot be sure how or when he became infected, Maor, who had received three doses of the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine, is convinced it happened in the UK. “I had the Omicron in London for sure,” he said. “It’s interesting because it was 10 days ago in London – really, really early. “
The revelation will raise new questions about when the new variant may have been present in the UK and Europe. Governments around the world are urgently scouring databases for recent cases of Covid infections, screening travelers and decoding the viral genomes of the new variant as they attempt to measure how bad it is. is spread and where it originated from.
Data shows it was circulating before it was officially identified in southern Africa last week and has since been detected in more than a dozen countries. Work to determine if it is more infectious, more deadly or if it can escape vaccines will take weeks.
Maor said he had nothing but praise for the organizers of the PCR London Valves 2021 conference, who requested proof of vaccination before allowing entry to ExCeL London. However, photos of the meeting taken by Maor and reviewed by the Guardian show that not everyone was wearing masks. The conference was attended by 1,250 people in person and 2,400 more watched online.
The doctor, who traveled to the conference in east London each day using the tube and the Docklands Light Railway, noticed similar behavior on public transport. “A lot of people in the tube weren’t wearing masks,” he said. “I was actually surprised by it. “
He underwent a PCR test on November 20 – his second day in the UK – and again on November 21 – the first day of the medical conference – under British and Israeli travel rules. After attending the final day on November 23, he flew from London via Heathrow Airport at 9 p.m. Upon arriving in Tel Aviv in the early hours of November 24, he underwent a third PCR test – which also came out negative.
“The only reasonable explanation is that I got infected on the last day of the meeting – maybe at the airport, maybe during the meeting,” he said. “This is why the [third] PCR was too early to detect infection. So either the second day of the meeting or the last day of the meeting because there is a lag between when you are infected and when the PCR becomes positive.
After initially testing negative for Covid-19 upon his return to Israel, he returned to work at Sheba Medical Center before developing symptoms, and a fourth PCR test found him positive. Maor has since been informed that it is the third confirmed case of Omicron in Israel, and the first in the country with no travel link to southern Africa.
Maor said it “feels weird” to be one of the first people in the world to be infected with the Omicron variant. “As a doctor, I’m not used to being in the spotlight. “
Although his wife accompanied him to London, neither she nor any of her children showed symptoms or tested positive for Covid-19. “It’s reassuring, I think,” he said. “I think the transmissibility of this [variant] is not completely different or drastically different from what I know of Delta.
Maor urged people to get vaccinated and receive a booster shot if they are eligible. “I cannot stress enough the importance of this,” he said. “Things could have turned out a lot worse for my family and friends – I’m sure my illness could have been worse without the vaccine. “
The Europa group, which is based in Toulouse and hosted the PCR London Valves 2021 conference at ExCeL London, posted a message on its official conference website confirming on November 30 that a delegate had tested positive for Covid after his return to his country of origin. .
Speaking from France, a spokesperson for Europa Group said: “As you can imagine, the health, safety and well-being of everyone who visited PCR London Valves was our number one priority. .
“All the protocols mandated by the UK government have been put in place. Anyone entering the convention center had to present a valid health passport and had to wear a mask. Hydroalcoholic gel and masks were made available to all participants and bins for used protective equipment were made available. “
Israel closed its borders to foreigners from all countries for 14 days on Saturday to try to contain the spread of Omicron and reintroduced anti-terrorism phone tracking technology to trace the contacts of a handful of people who have likely been infected. The UK has added 10 countries to its travel “red list”.