TOKYO -- Japan is highly likely to have recorded community transmission of a COVID-19 variant spreading in the U.K., the country's health ministry said Monday, as it confirmed for the first time multiple cases from people with no recent travel history abroad.
The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare said it found the strain in four people, both male and female. Three had no history of travel to the U.K. or contact with travelers from abroad, the ministry added.
The source of the transmission is under review, the health ministry says, stating that "no widespread transmission has been confirmed."
Until now, infections by the virus strain had only been confirmed in people who tested positive during airport inspections, those who developed COVID-19 after arriving in Japan and those who had close contact of such people.
Two females in their 20s and 40s, as well as a male in his 60s contracted the variant strain of the virus. All three live in Shizuoka Prefecture and developed symptoms in early January. They are currently convalescing at home. The female in her 40s was a close contact of the female in her 20s.
"There is no need for immediate restrictions," a Shizuoka prefectural official told a news conference.
While the virus strain found in the U.K. appears to be up to 70% more transmittable, it is said that there is no evidence it is more deadly or causes more serious sickness.
Another coronavirus variant was also found in South Africa. That strain is believed to be more contagious than conventional coronavirus ones, though many questions remain unanswered.