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Japan fears COVID-19 variants are behind the fourth possible wave




TOKYO – Japanese health authorities are concerned that coronavirus variants are leading a fourth wave in the pandemic with just 109 days remaining until the Tokyo Olympics.

The variants appear to be more infectious and may be resistant to vaccines, which are not yet widely available in Japan. The situation is worst in Osaka, where infections hit new highs last week, prompting the regional government to begin blocking measures for a month from Monday.

A COVID-19 mutant variant first discovered in Britain has taken root in the Osaka region, spreading faster and filling hospital beds with more serious cases than the original virus, according to Koji Wada, a government adviser on the pandemic. .

“The fourth wave will be bigger,” said Wada, a professor at Tokyo International University of Health and Welfare. “We need to start discussing how we can use these targeted measures for the Tokyo area.”

Japan has twice declared a state of emergency that covered most of the country last year, most recently shortly after the New Year as it struck the third and deadliest wave of the pandemic. Officials are now choosing more targeted measures that allow local governments to cut working hours and impose fines for noncompliance.

The city of Osaka canceled the events of the Olympic Torch Relay there, but Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has insisted that Japan will conduct the Games as planned. Suga said Sunday that measures used in the Osaka area could be extended to Tokyo and elsewhere if needed.

There were 249 new infections in Tokyo on Monday, still well below the peak of over 2,500 in January. In Osaka, the number was 341, down from a record 666 cases on Saturday.

The true extent of mutant cases is unknown, as only a small fraction of COVID-19 positive cases undergo the genomic study needed to find variants.

A health ministry report last week showed 678 cases of variants from Britain, South Africa and Brazil had been detected across the country and at airports, with the largest herds in Osaka and nearby Hyogo prefecture.

All three have the N501Y mutation, and the latter two also have the E484K mutation. Authorities in Japan have found more than 1,000 cases that have only E484K.

This variant was present in about 70% of coronavirus patients tested at a Tokyo hospital last month, Japanese public broadcaster NHK said on Sunday.

The case response came within weeks of the government lifting emergency measures, and the priority measures now taken aim to stop a sudden increase in mutant cases, said Makoto Shimoaraiso, a Cabinet Secretariat official for the COPID-19 response. Japan.

“Although we have seen (various scientific) indicators before lifting the state of emergency, there is some possibility of criticism that we should have anticipated the status of the variants.”

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