Japan has detected a case of a fast-spreading coronavirus variant found in South Africa, the government has said.
It was reported on Monday and is the first such discovery in a nation that has already identified more than a dozen cases of another variant that is spreading rapidly in Britain.
A woman in her 30s who arrived in Japan on Dec 19 was found to be infected with the new South African variant, the health ministry said.
South Africa’s health authorities have said the variant might be responsible for a recent surge in infections there.
The detection of the South Africa-linked variant comes after the Japanese government on Monday started banning the entry of non-resident foreign nationals following the discovery of the UK variant in Japan.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga urged calm ahead of the New Year holidays, when hospitals tend to be understaffed, and instructed ministers to remain alert.
“The virus recognises no year-end or New Year holidays. I ask each minister to raise the level of their sense of urgency and thoroughly carry out counter measures,” he told a meeting of the government’s task force on coronavirus responses.
A Japanese business traveller at Tokyo’s Haneda airport, where few people were seen yesterday, told Reuters the government should do more.
“Even though Japan is doing things to counter the new variant, there are still reports of cases here,” Seiji Oohira said on arriving from India, where he works for a construction-related company. “So I think it’s better to tighten the restrictions a little bit further.”
Japan is facing a third wave of Covid-19 infections, with daily cases hitting a record of nearly 4,000 on Saturday, according to public broadcaster NHK. Fatalities hit an all-time high of 64 on Friday.
Yuichiro Hata, a 53-year-old former transport minister and the son of former Prime Minister Tsutomu Hata, died of Covid-19 on Sunday, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan said, becoming the first incumbent lawmaker to succumb to the disease.