• Kyodo, staff report

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Japan has confirmed 18 cases of the eta variant of the coronavirus — designated as a variant of interest (VOI) by the World Health Organization — a health ministry tally showed Thursday, the first such infections reported in the country.

The VOI category means it is less of a concern than the alpha and delta variants, which are categorized as variants of concern (VOC).

The eta variant has been detected in a number of countries since December, first in the United Kingdom and Nigeria. According to GISAID, a website that tracks COVID-19 variants, eta had been prevalent globally around March through May, but the number of cases gradually declined since then.

All travelers to Japan are required to take a PCR test upon arrival and wait for results. If they test positive, they are quarantined in a designated facility or hospitalized, depending on their symptoms. Even if they test negative, they are required to quarantine for 14 days at home or a designated facility depending on where they traveled prior to arrival.

Not much is known about the eta variant, including how transmissible it is.

The health ministry tally as of Sept. 3 also showed that the kappa variant, categorized as a VOI and first detected in India, had been confirmed among 19 people in Japan. A case of the kappa variant outside of quarantine was confirmed in Mie Prefecture in June.

Earlier this month, the ministry said it confirmed the first cases in Japan of the mu variant in two people arriving from abroad through airport screenings.

So far, the alpha, beta, delta, gamma, kappa, lambda and mu variants have been confirmed in Japan, in addition to the eta variant.

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