Japanese health officials are concerned that coronavirus variants are starting a fourth wave of the pandemic 109 days after the Olympic Games.
The variants appear to be more infectious and may be resistant to vaccines, which are not yet widely available in Japan. The situation is worse in Osaka, where infections reached new records last week, prompting the regional government to initiate confinement measures for a month from this Monday.
A variant initially discovered in Britain quickly spread across the Osaka region, filling hospital beds with cases more serious than the original virus.
“The fourth wave will be bigger”, said Koji Wada, a government adviser on the pandemic and a professor at Tokyo International University of Health and Welfare, quoted by Reuters agency. “We need to start discussing how we could use these measures targeted at the Tokyo area.”
Japan twice declared the state of emergency that covered most of the country last year, most recently just after the New Year, when the third and deadliest wave of the pandemic occurred. Authorities are now opting for more targeted measures that will allow local governments to shorten business hours and impose fines for non-compliance.
Osaka canceled the Olympic Torch events in the region, but Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga insists that Japan will host the Olympic Games as scheduled. Suga said measures in Osaka could be expanded to Tokyo and elsewhere if necessary.
The true extent of the mutant cases is unknown, since only a small fraction of the covid-19 cases are submitted to the genomic study necessary to find the variants.
A health ministry report last week showed that 678 cases of mutant variants from Britain, South Africa and Brazil were discovered across the country and at airports, with the largest clusters in Osaka and Hyogo.
However, Japan is also concerned with another variant, known as E484K, which may be more widespread. About 70% of patients with covid-19 tested in a Tokyo hospital last month they had this mutation that was different from the British and South African varieties.
“It is almost certain that this new variant is highly contagious, with a very fast transmission speed ”, warned Osaka Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura. “I ask all Osaka residents to avoid unnecessary exits.”
The priority measures that are being implemented now aim to halt an unexpected increase in mutant cases, according to Makoto Shimoaraiso, an official in the Secretariat’s Office for Japan’s response to covid-19. “We accept criticism when people say that we cannot detect any variant,” he said.
Maria Campos, ZAP //