TOKYO (JAPAN) – Adding to Japan’s woes amid a third wave of pandemic and the upcoming Tokyo games, the country confirmed a new variant of COVID-19, and an infection cluster at a Tokyo immigration facility.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told reporters on Friday that the new variant has been found in 91 cases in the Kanto area of eastern Japan and in 2 cases at airports, . The government is tightening surveillance against mutant varieties as they may be more resistant to vaccines.
“It may be more contagious than conventional strains, and if it continues to spread domestically, it could lead to a rapid rise in cases,” Kato said.
Japan has reported 151 cases of variants from Britain, South Africa and Brazil. However, according to the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, the new strain appears to have originated overseas but is different from other types that have been found sporadically in Japan. It has the E484K mutation on the spike protein of the virus that has been found in other variants, which may undermine the effectiveness of vaccines.
Meanwhile, 5 staff and 39 foreign detainees at a Tokyo immigration facility have tested positive for COVID-19.
All 130 detainees at the facility have been tested for the virus, according to a spokesperson for the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau. None of the cases is serious, and all infected detainees remain quarantined from others.
Japan’s detention system for immigration law violators and asylum seekers has been widely criticized for its medical standards, monitoring of detainees and response to emergencies.
“Many detainees are locked in a small, closed spaces,” said Motoko Yamagishi, the head of a migrants-rights group. “It is regrettable that such a outbreak happened in the centre.”
Japan started distributing vaccines this week.