New COVID-19 variant detected in Japan

Coronavirus

This electron microscope image made available and color-enhanced by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Integrated Research Facility in Fort Detrick, Md., shows Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, orange, isolated from a patient. (NIAID/National Institutes of Health via AP)

(NEXSTAR) – Another variant of the COVID-19 virus has been discovered in Japan, the World Health Organization announced Monday.

The new variant was detected in four travelers arriving to Japan from Brazil, according to Japanese health officials.

The officials said the variant shares some mutations in common with the B117 strain, first discovered in the U.K. and said to be 70 percent more infectious than the novel COVID-19 virus.

The newly discovered variant does not seem to lead to increased severity of infection, WHO said.

It’s likely that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will protect against the strain detected in Japan, as coronavirus vaccine designers predicted the virus would mutate and “included various predictions of viral strains” in the vaccine, Melissa Nolan, an infectious disease expert and professor at the University of South Carolina, told USA Today

“These changes in the viral composition are expected,” Nolan said. “At the moment we have not seen any dramatic genetic shifts of concern.”

The Japanese variant is the third such mutation to be discovered globally. New COVID strains have also been found in the U.K. and South Africa and have since spread across the globe.

According to WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the more the virus spreads, the more likely new variants will arise.

“This can drive a surge of cases and hospitalizations, which is highly problematic for health workers and hospitals already close to (the) breaking point.”

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