A new mutant Covid strain has been found in an infected traveller who arrived in Japan from the Philippines, according to health officials.
The man in his 60s was asymptomatic when he arrived in Narita Airport near Tokyo on February 25.
He tested positive for Covid-19 during mandatory quarantine, authorities say.
Japanese health officials said this coronavirus variant is “distinct” from those discovered in Brazil, South Africa, and the UK but it is believed it could pose a similar threat to variants that are more deadly and contagious than the original strain.
This variety may be better equipped to neutralise antibodies including those gained from vaccination as the South African and Brazilian variants appear to be, the Japan Times reports.
The health ministry said the mutant strain has already spread in the Philippines and Japan. It confirmed the case for the first time on Friday, saying: “The strain has begun to be detected in the Philippines and has spread to some extent here”.
There have been 34 cases of the new variant confirmed in the Philippines (Image: ROLEX DELA PENA/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)
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The man who carried the virus to Japan is undergoing treatment at a designated facility. His nationality has not been revealed.
The National Institute of Infectious Diseases is monitoring the spread of the virus closely, and has called for tougher border control measures to keep it in check.
Along with the health ministry, it says it has detected infections with the new variant in the central area of the Philippines since late January.
A total of 34 cases have been confirmed in the country so far. Its Department of Health has yet to comment on the new strain, according to CNN Philippines.
The new strain has also been found in the central region of the Philippines (Image: REUTERS)
Earlier this week, it was reported that a new coronavirus variant had been found in the UK after two people returned from the Caribbean.
The cases were discovered in the South East of England, Public Health England (PHE) said. The variant, from Antigua, is being investigated, but has not yet been classed as “concerning”.
PHE said the Antigua strain, known as known as VUI-202103/01, contains “spike mutations usually associated with Variants of Concern”.
The National Institute of Infectious Diseases is watching the spread of the new virus strain in the Philippines and Japan closely (Image: REUTERS)
Scientists have stressed throughout the pandemic that virus mutations are inevitable.
Some strains have become more transmissible or reduced the effectiveness of vaccines. Researchers have previously said a variant resistant to the current crop of vaccines is likely to emerge at some point.
But they have stressed that vaccines can also be adapted quickly.
The UK’s Kent Covid variant first emerged in September and prompted a surge in cases during the lockdown late last year. It has since spread worldwide.
The variant carries the N501Y mutation, which means it is more contagious, and is thought to cause more serious disease.