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Coronavirus

Japan finds new COVID virus strain, distinct from UK and Africa types

Variant detected in four passengers who arrived in Tokyo from Brazil

An arrival gate at Tokyo's Haneda Airport: A new coronavirus variant has been found in four passengers who flew into the airport.    © Reuters

TOKYO -- A new variant of the virus behind COVID-19 has been detected in Japan, the country's Health Ministry announced on Sunday.

It was found in four people -- male and female, ranging from their teens to their 40s -- who arrived from Brazil. While there are similarities to strains first reported in the U.K. and South Africa, this particular type does not appear to have been spotted before.

This brings to 34 the number of confirmed infections from a variant strain in Japan. Of these, three are cases in which the person did not arrive from overseas, including two cases of the U.K. strain found on Sunday.

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has reported the new variant to the World Health Organization.

The infected passengers arrived at Tokyo's Haneda Airport on Jan. 2. After they tested positive at the airport, the National Institute of Infectious Diseases analyzed their samples and confirmed the COVID-19 variant. Three had shown symptoms such as difficulty breathing, fever and sore throat.

The NIID also announced its confirmation of the new variant on Sunday. At present, the institute said, it is difficult to judge the strain's transmissibility, the risk of developing serious symptoms and the effectiveness of vaccines.

The variants found in the U.K. and South Africa have been determined to spread more easily than strains detected earlier in the pandemic. Japan, meanwhile, is in the midst of its worst coronavirus wave yet.

Regarding the two cases of the British strain detected Sunday, the two individuals in their 20s had dined with a 30-something man who tested positive after arriving from the U.K. The man, who initially tested negative upon arrival, was supposed to be in quarantine at home for two weeks. Around 10 people attended the meal.

The ministry believes that the virus spread at this event. But it expressed optimism that there will be no further infections, since the two individuals who contracted the virus from this man had no contact with large numbers of people except at this meal.

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