Japan’s health ministry has declared a new covid-19 variant within the country. The new strain features twelve mutations, including one that was discovered in England and South Africa.
Both the UK variant — which is significantly more communicable, and a second strain in South Africa have raised concerns about whether a vaccine-resistant version could eventually develop.
According to the National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NIID) in Japan, the new variant was detected in travelers who had arrived from Brazil. The country is working to isolate and analyze the variant that was discovered in the 4 travelers.
It was also reported that there are some similarities between the newly detected strain and the ones found in South Africa and the U.K. Right now, it is difficult to determine how infectious the new strain is and if the vaccines are effective against it.
Japan recorded 4,670 new cases of Covid-19 on Tuesday and the government has already declared a state of emergency in and around Tokyo as coronavirus cases climb.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of World Health Organization (WHO), has refuted claims that the new Japanese Covid mutation is more aggressive.
Over the weekend, the World Health Organization was notified by Japan about a new variant of the virus. The more the virus circulates, the higher the chance of new changes to the virus, Tedros said. But at the moment, the new variant do not seem to show increased severity of the disease, he added.
Tedros advised everyone to continue observing personal protective measures, adding that “limiting transmission limits the chance of dangerous new variants to develop.”
In the meantime, UK’s chief medical officer, Chris Whitty has said that the upcoming weeks would be the worst of the pandemic for the National Health Service as he appealed to the public to strictly follow guidelines meant to avert the spread of the virus.
Chris Whitty said political leaders are considering tightening the rules as the new, more communicable variant of Covid-19 aggravates an already difficult situation. Hospitals are overfull and exhausted medical staff are under strain.
I think everybody agrees that this is the most dangerous time we’ve really had in terms of numbers into the National Health Service, Whitty told the BBC.
South Africa is also struggling to cope with a spike in Covid-19 cases that has already overwhelmed many hospitals, as people returning from holiday are said to have spread the new infectious coronavirus variant.
Of particular concern is the Gauteng province, the country’s most populated, which includes the cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria. Authorities say it is already seeing an increase in new infections after people travelled to coastal areas, where the new variant is dominant.
Prof. Shabir Madhi, a specialist in vaccinology, said that South Africa’s rapid spike in hospitalization is a sign of a virus variant that is more communicable. Many people are getting infected and more people are needing hospital treatment.
In response to the resurgence, South Africa has reimposed restrictions to limit the spread of the virus, including closing bars, restaurants, enforcing a night curfew and limiting attendance at public gatherings including church services and funerals. The South African military has been brought in to help enforce a curfew that will be in place in some parts of the country.