Japan must Stop Spread of Mutated Coronavirus through Swift Detection

Strict vigilance is necessary because this variant is said to be more contagious than the established ones. Border controls at airports must be strengthened to prevent its spread in the nation.

A mutated novel coronavirus has been discovered among infected people one after another, mainly among returnees from Britain. The infections were discovered during checks at such locations as airport quarantines and accommodation facilities.

The variant was first found in Britain. The virus’ genetic information is believed to have changed as it multiplied and increased its infectivity by up to 70%. There have been no reports so far that the condition of patients is more likely to become serious, but if the mutated virus spreads in the nation, the number of people infected will increase rapidly, putting further pressure on the medical system.

A pilot was among the people infected with the mutated virus. Since he was not subject to quarantine at the airport, on the grounds that quarantine would interfere with flight operations, the pilot returned home and became sick.

Following the latest incident, the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry has asked airline companies to conduct regular checkups on international flight crews. Each company must thoroughly examine the condition of crew members.

The government has temporarily suspended the entry of foreign nationals from all over the world until the end of January next year. The government also announced the resumption of a 14-day quarantine period for Japanese and foreign nationals living in Japan who return from short-term business trips. This is an appropriate step as an emergency measure.

However, business trips to and from such countries as China and South Korea will continue to be allowed. It is important to determine the extent of infections in those countries and respond promptly.

The mutated virus was discovered in Britain because that country has been analyzing the virus’ genome, or genetic information, on a large scale. In Japan, genome analysis is conducted on a certain number of infected people, but the number is extremely small compared to that of Britain.

It is important to detect the spread of mutations quickly. The government should consider increasing such analysis in close cooperation with universities and research institutes.

The number of new infections with the virus has been increasing mainly in Tokyo and surrounding prefectures. The government suspended the Go To Travel tourism promotion campaign until Jan. 11. At the ordinary Diet session next year, it plans to submit a bill to revise the special measures law to cope with new strains of influenza.

Recently, “coronavirus fatigue” among the public has become serious. Despite calls from the central and local governments for people to refrain from going out, the number of people going out has not decreased as expected.

It has become difficult for newly infected patients to be admitted to medical institutions, where hospital beds have become scarce. The basic measures to be taken against the mutated virus are the same as the established ones, including wearing masks and avoiding the Three Cs of closed spaces, crowded places and close-contact settings. To get through this difficult time, it is important for each and every member of the public to spend a quiet year-end and New Year’s holiday.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Dec. 29, 2020.