The government on Monday said it has so far detected more than 20 cases of the Indian variant of COVID-19 in Japan — a rise in the number of cases of the potentially worrisome new strain that some fear could prove more resistant to existing vaccines.
“According to the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, a total of 21 cases were confirmed in the country, of which 20 were found in airport quarantine and one was confirmed among domestic cases,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato, the government’s top spokesman, told a news conference Monday.
The government acknowledged for the first time last week that it had detected five cases of the "double mutant" variant, which has the features of two different viral mutations. India has also detected a “triple mutant” variant, and Kato said that the health ministry was looking into the situation.
The double variant, officially known as B.1.617, was first detected in India in October. India has become the global COVID-19 hot spot in recent weeks, setting world records for daily case numbers.
Although it's unclear whether the new variant has fueled the explosive spread of cases, the existence of the new strain has unnerved many observers, who fear it could impact the effectiveness of vaccines.
But Kato said there had been no definitive conclusion regarding the efficacy of vaccines against the double variant.
“The health ministry is working with other countries, the World Health Organization and experts to collect, evaluate and analyze information pertaining to variants, not just the one found in India,” Kato said, vowing to bolster quarantine arrangements as part of border control measures and screening for variants inside the country.
One senior administration official did acknowledge that stifling the variant completely within Japan would be “difficult” if it began to spread more widely.
As of Monday afternoon, there had been no reports of any variants involving three or more mutations being detected in Japan.
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