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Coronavirus

COVID variants spreading fast in Japan, Kobe study finds

Nearly 50% of patients in port city infected with new strains since Feb. 19

Kobe has been conducting random checks for COVID-19 variants since Jan. 1 with disturbing results.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- COVID-19 variants are increasing in Kobe, officials in the Japanese port city announced on Monday.

The city conducted a random check for variants among people who tested positive for COVID-19 after Jan. 1. Results showed that those infected by a variant have gradually increased since February.

Between Feb. 12 and Feb. 18, about 15% of 79 samples indicated a variant. However, the percentage of new variants to total COVID-19 patients has increased to about 50% since Feb. 19, indicating that COVID-19 variants are likely spreading in the country.

The Japanese government has asked local health organizations to spot-check for variants among COVID-19 tests. In Kobe, the city's Public Health Research Institute has examined about 40% of positive tests since the start of the year.

Between Jan. 1 and Jan. 28, the city checked 677 tests from 1,962 people without finding variants. But between Jan. 29 and Feb. 4, new strains were found in eight out of 173 samples, or 4.6%. This increased to 10.5% between Feb. 5 and Feb. 11 and 15.2% between Feb. 12 and Feb. 18.

Through Feb. 18 in Kobe, 36 people were confirmed to be infected with a new strain, with 31 people having the U.K. variant and the remaining five an amino acid mutation only.

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