Japan Covid variant detected, sharing some of the mutations in common with those of concern for high infectivity.
The National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NIID) reported that the Japan Covid variant had started in four travelers arriving from Brazil.
The new Covid-19 strain shares some of the mutations in common with those of concern for high infectivity, the institute said, referring to the strains found in the U.K. and South Africa.
However, the genetic make-up is the only information authorities have about the new variant. NIID mentioned the difficulty of proving how infectious the new strain is and the effectiveness of inoculation against it.
Japan’s detection of the new Covid variant comes as countries attempt to tame two other contagious variants that have been detected in the U.K. and South Africa. Public health experts are worried about the impact of the new strains on vaccination efforts.
There is still no proof of the mutated viruses being linked to more severe disease outcomes. However, being more transmissible means it can infect more people, and this could lead to more serious infections and more deaths.
Four passengers arriving from Brazil’s Amazonas state on Jan. 2 were reportedly the carriers of the new variant.
One 40-year-old male did not manifest any symptoms upon his arrival in Japan. He was hospitalized as his respiratory issues worsened. Meanwhile, one female in her 30s said she has a sore throat and headache; one male aged between 10 and 19 reported a fever; and one young woman did not show any symptoms.
The Japan Covid variant is part of the B.1.1.248 strain and has 12 mutations in the spike protein, according to the NIID.
Japan’s Health Ministry announced that studies are being held to measure the effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines against the new variant, Reuters reported, citing an unnamed ministry official.
On Thursday, Japan declared a state of emergency in the greater Tokyo area following the rise of Covid cases in the country’s capital city.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced new restrictions. “The situation has become increasingly troubling nationwide and we have a strong sense of crisis.” He said that the protocols were important in addressing an “increasingly troubling” third wave of infections.
To date, Japan has posted 290,270 coronavirus cases, with 3,855 related deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Meanwhile, in the US, more Covid variants are expected to arrive, according to Michael Osterholm, President-elect Joe Biden’s Covid-19 advisor.
Osterholm said it is not certain whether the U.S. will be placed under new restrictions on a local or regional level in response to the new strain. He believes that the U.S. already has “a number of measures put in place to try to limit transmission.”
“This is a challenge and it’s one that, as we’re watching” in Europe with the new variant, has “been made only more acute by the fact that this virus now, the new strains, are transmitting even more effectively than the ones before,” Osterholm said.
The new coronavirus strain was detected in people without travel history. This is considered a sign that the variant could be infecting Americans unknowingly.
Mercedes Carnethon, vice-chair of preventive medicine at Northwestern University, told MSNBC that the initial cases of the new strain have been detected in the country’s most populated states during a holiday travel season.
“We can be sure based on the photographs that we all saw from TSA checkpoints over the holidays that millions of people traveled among these destinations,” Carnethon said. “We can be fairly confident this variant is now everywhere.”