Strengthen testing, border control to block spread of Indian variant

To prevent the spread of the Indian variant of the novel coronavirus, which is said to be especially infectious, it is important to strengthen measures related to border control and monitoring.

A 14-day self-isolation period has been imposed for those returning to or entering Japan from India and Pakistan, and the government has recently extended the period for which these people must stay in government-designated facilities from three days to six days during the 14-day period. This will also apply to Nepal, a country from which visitors have not previously been obliged to wait in facilities.

In addition to Japanese returnees entering from those three countries, foreigners with Japanese residency status and spouses and children of long-term residents will also be subject to the change.

The Indian variant, known as a “double mutation virus,” requires strict vigilance because it is said to weaken the immune system, making it easier for the infection to spread. In India, infections have been spreading rapidly since the latter half of March, and it seems that measures against this were taken too late.

From now on, PCR tests will be conducted on entrants’ third and sixth full days in Japan, and if both tests are negative, they will be required to stay at home until the 14th day.

However, several experts caution that the possibility of tests missing an infection cannot be ruled out. These experts are calling for a further extension of stays at facilities to 14 days. This idea should be seriously considered.

In case the tests fail, it is important to take effective measures to prevent the virus from spreading during the period of staying at home.

There are currently about 24,000 people who have entered Japan from overseas who are staying at home. The government asks them to provide their location information via their smartphones several times a day and confirms their whereabouts through video calls, but about 300 people have not responded to these requests.

The government is urged to consider effective measures to be taken in cases where cooperation is not forthcoming.

This spring, the government failed to implement effective border control measures against the British variant, leading to the “fourth wave” of infections. Repeating the same mistake must be avoided.

Nearly half of the people found to be infected by airport quarantine officials since April have been people returning to or entering Japan from India or Nepal. There are fears that the Indian variant has already slipped through quarantine and is spreading throughout the country, making it essential to monitor the situation in various parts of the country.

The government is planning to expand the use of technology from the National Institute of Infectious Diseases to allow local governments to conduct genome analysis to identify all mutations.

The Tokyo metropolitan government has established a PCR test method specifically for detecting the Indian variant, and began using it at the end of last month. Four cases have been found in which people who had no history of travel abroad were infected with the variant.

It is important to immediately expand the system for detecting the Indian variant to local governments across the country so that infected people can be detected and isolated at an early stage.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on May 12, 2021.