Social distancing pictograms in an elevator in Tokyo, September 28, 2020.

Faced with a sharp rise in contamination, Japan is worried about the discovery of a new variant of Covid-19, which has come from Brazil. The Ministry of Health is seeking to determine whether this variant detected in four travelers, two adults and two children, is more contagious, potentially more serious and if it can call into question the effectiveness of vaccines or tests. “It is difficult to say when we will have the results”, specifies the administration, admitting that it could take weeks, even months.

The National Institute of Infectious Diseases has so far established that the new variant has similarities to those recently discovered in the United Kingdom and South Africa, much more contagious than previous strains of the coronavirus.

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The four travelers landed on January 2 at Haneda Airport in Tokyo. They have been tested, with Japan routinely screening people arriving from abroad. “The positivity has been confirmed. We placed them in quarantine then we analyzed the genome and discovered the new strain ”, we explain to the ministry.

Struggling to breathe, the man, in his forties, was hospitalized. The woman, in her thirties, suffers from headaches and has a dry throat. The boy has a fever and the girl has no symptoms. The three are isolated in quarantine in an airport hotel. The four have not left Haneda, giving the ministry hope that the virus has not spread to Tokyo.

“Highly problematic” strains

The travelers were arriving from Amazonas. This state in northwestern Brazil is particularly affected by the pandemic and the situation there is said to have deteriorated sharply around the time of the end of the year celebrations. The state capital, Manaus, has recorded a peak in hospitalizations since the start of 2021 and has declared a state of emergency for six months. The Brazilian authorities have asked Japan to communicate the details of the trip of the four people to establish contact cases.

Informed of the discovery made in Japan, the director general of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, called the new strains of “Highly problematic”, especially for health systems, which are already under great pressure. “The more the virus spreads, the greater the risk of new mutations”, he recalled.

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The discovery of this new variant comes as Japan seeks to stem a third wave of the epidemic, which began in October. The archipelago shows a less dramatic toll than Europe or the United States, with, on January 13, 298,884 contaminations and 4,192 deaths since the start of the pandemic. But the increase in daily contaminations is accelerating. They reached 7,882 on January 8, almost double the figures at the end of December.

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