New mutant COVID-19 strain identified in Japan

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A new mutant strain of COVID-19 has been identified according to a statement issued by the Japanese Health Ministry. 

Cases of COVID-19 Treatment, Transmission, Spreading, Symptoms, Testing and Risks Concept. Chart with keywords and icons on white desk with stationery. Coronavirus symptoms illustration. Asymptomatic example. Image credit: tumsasedgars / 123rf COVID-19 antibodies concept.Cases of COVID-19 Treatment, Transmission, Spreading, Symptoms, Testing and Risks Concept. Chart with keywords and icons on white desk with stationery. Coronavirus symptoms illustration. Asymptomatic example. Image credit: tumsasedgars / 123rf COVID-19 antibodies concept.
Cases of COVID-19 Treatment, Transmission, Spreading, Symptoms, Testing and Risks Concept. Chart with keywords and icons on white desk with stationery. Coronavirus symptoms illustration. Asymptomatic example. Image credit: tumsasedgars / 123rf COVID-19 antibodies concept.Cases of COVID-19 Treatment, Transmission, Spreading, Symptoms, Testing and Risks Concept. Chart with keywords and icons on white desk with stationery. Coronavirus symptoms illustration. Asymptomatic example. Image credit: tumsasedgars / 123rf COVID-19 antibodies concept. Image credit: tumsasedgars / 123rf

This new mutant strain has been identified to be entirely isolated from the strains arising in the UK and South Africa, with the variant traced to travellers arriving in Japan on flights from Brazil. Four individuals have thus far been identified in Japan with the strain, all of which were picked up via airport testing from flights from Brazil.

Given the fact that the strain did not originate in Japan, and was sourced from individuals travelling internationally, it is likely to be the case that more individuals with the new mutant strain exist. Figures may well be higher in Brazil, where the strain is speculated to have originated. This strain could well have broken more international boundaries than just that of Japan.

India is currently dealing with rising cases of the UK mutant variant of COVID-19. As Health Issues India wrote previously

“One new variant first identified in the United Kingdom has made landfall in India with cases now totalling 96 as of [January 11th] according to the Union Health Ministry. The new variant, which is significantly more transmissible than other previously-identified strains, has prompted tough restrictions on those who test positive as well as travel restrictions between India and the United Kingdom. Fortunately, it is not believed to predispose those infected to a greater risk of a critical condition, nor an increased mortality risk.”

Currently, studies are indicating that current vaccines remain efficate against the mutant strains. This will be vitally important over the coming months as countries across the globe, India included, attempt to limit the transmission of the mutant strains. 

However, the current set of COVID-19 vaccines being rolled out globally may not remain efficate should more mutant strains develop. Mutations by their very nature are unpredictable. One mutation may simply render the virus unviable, with the mutated viral particle simply being destroyed. Others have no effect at all. Some, such as the strain first identified in the UK, have rendered the virus more capable of spreading, though, according to the study, have not mutated the antigen site the vaccine relies upon, allowing the vaccine to still be effective. 

Much like the flu, there lies the potential for extensive mutation the longer the pandemic goes on. Also like the flu, such differentiation could lead to the necessity of several vaccines as strains differentiate enough that the current set of vaccines are rendered ineffective. The longer the pandemic continues, the greater the chance of this eventuality. The rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines provides hope that the situation will begin to be resolved over the course of 2021. However, without equitable access to the vaccine, mutations may develop where the disease still runs rampant, leading to threats of resurgence.