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Coronavirus

Japan reports first 5 cases of UK coronavirus variant

Travelers returning from Britain isolated after positive tests at border

A coronavirus testing facility at Narita International Airport, near Tokyo: Border officials are on the lookout for new COVID-19 variants.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Japan on Friday said that it has found at least five people infected with the new U.K. strain of the coronavirus -- the first cases of the more contagious variant to be detected on its shores.

Health Minister Norihisa Tamura, at an emergency news conference, said all affected individuals had recently returned from Britain. They tested positive at the border and were sent for quarantine. Further analysis revealed that they carried the new U.K. variant, Tamura explained. 

The nationalities of the travelers have not been disclosed. They arrived between Dec. 18 and 21, and were tested at either Tokyo's Haneda Airport or Kansai International Airport near Osaka. Four have no symptoms, while one, a man in his 60s, has complained of fatigue.

Besides the U.K., this particular strain has also been reported in Italy, the Netherlands, Denmark, Australia and Germany. It is known to be more transmissible than other strains, but experts say there is not yet any evidence to suggest it is more damaging.

The news of the variant's arrival in Japan came the same evening Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga updated reporters on the outlook for vaccinations. The prime minister said the country would be ready to roll out vaccines "as soon as" domestic health experts give their approval, likely in February.

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