New coronavirus variant 'Eek' found in Japan, lowers vaccine protection
As the coronavirus continues to mutate, a new variant, nicknamed 'Eek' by scientists, has now emerged in Japan, news agency Reuters reported on Sunday. Citing Japan's public broadcaster NHK, the agency reported that the new E484K mutation, known for reducing vaccine protection, was detected in around 70% of the coronavirus disease patients at a Tokyo hospital last month.
According to the NHK report, reviewed by Reuters, the E484K mutation was found in as many as 10 out of 14 Covid-19 patients at the Tokyo Medical and Dental University Hospital, back in March. For two months, 12 of 36 Covid-19 patients carried the mutation, but none of them had recently travelled abroad or reported contact with people who had, the report said.
Variants of the coronavirus have cropped up around the world since last year. Japan is presently grappling with a fresh wave of coronavirus infections, a worrying trend ahead of the summer Tokyo Olympics planned for July. On Sunday, 355 new infections were reported in Tokyo, although that is still well below the peak of over 2,500 in January. A total of 594 new coronavirus disease cases were reported in Osaka prefecture on Sunday, a day after a record 666 were confirmed.
Although large-scale vaccinations of the general population have not yet begun, health experts are particularly worried about the spread of mutant strains, Reuters reported, adding that hospital officials were not immediately available for comment.
Japan's prime minister Yoshihide Suga said on Sunday that he would expand emergency measures as needed to contain the new wave of coronavirus infections, amid fears over the spread of virus mutations. Asked on a Fuji TV programme whether Tokyo might be added to a list of areas set to come under lockdown, Suga simply said, "All possibilities are being considered. It doesn't matter specifically where, we will act without hesitation if needed."
(With inputs from Reuters)