Community spread fears rise after omicron escapes tests at Japanese airport

The threat of community spread of the omicron variant is upon Japan’s door now that cases have escaped initial virus testing at airports and have exceeded those quarantined at home or at a government-designated facility.

A woman in her 20s tested positive for the omicron variant while in quarantine at her home in Tokyo after arriving from Texas on December 8. She first tested negative at Narita Airport and was allowed to self-isolate for 14 days at her home because she was not traveling from a place considered to be an omicron hotspot. But she then developed a fever and is now in isolation at a health facility, the government said.

What is more concerning is that she did not abide by the rules that she pledged to follow after entering – namely, not to come into contact with others during the period of isolation. This lead to the case of a man in his twenties who visited the woman twice last week and then tested positive for omicron on Friday, marking the 35th case of the variant in Japan.

The man had developed a fever and a cough two days before attending a J. League Emperor’s Cup match at Todoroki Stadium in Kawasaki on Sunday, media reported, prompting authorities to scramble to reach around 80 people sitting near him during the match and at least 100 people who work on the same floor at his workplace.

The Ministry of Health’s coronavirus advisory board on Thursday urged the government to strengthen protective measures at ports and airports and conduct PCR testing to detect variants of all cases of COVID-19, in assuming it will sooner or later spread across the country.

“We recommend that broad testing be done on people who come in contact and share the same space with people infected with the omicron variant, whether they wear a mask or the duration of the contact,” Takaji Wakita, head of the ministry a said the advisory board. “We need to prepare by making sufficient estimates of the kind of burden this could place on the health system. “

A quarantine officer checks passenger documents at Narita Airport on December 1. | KYODO

So far, the government has denied that the latest cases are examples of community infection, saying they are closely watched and traceable cases even though they escaped initial testing at airports.

“As far as I know, there is a difference between cases detected in the country and cases of infection in the community, and as long as they are traceable, it is not community spread,” said one senior government official.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike also said the man’s case would not be defined as a community infection.

In the United States, community acquired infections are defined as such when they occur outside of hospitals.

Regardless of the categorization of cases, the risk of community infection is increasing, as there are concerns that omicron may replace the delta variant as the dominant strain of the coronavirus.

A study by researchers at the LKS School of Medicine at the University of Hong Kong found that the strain infects and multiplies 70 times faster in the bronchi than the delta variant and the original strain.

Meanwhile, another study by scientists at Rockefeller University in New York City showed that omicron is more prone to escape antibodies produced after vaccination or infection than previous variants, although he added that a boost would sufficiently enhance the antibody response to offer a substantial increase in protection.

“The message remains clear: if you are not vaccinated, get vaccinated,” Dr Anthony Fauci, America’s leading infectious disease expert and member of the Maison’s coronavirus task force, told reporters on Wednesday. White. “And especially in the omicron arena, if you’re fully immunized, get the vaccine.”

The variant has spread to at least 77 countries since it was first reported in South Africa just over three weeks ago. The Daiwa Research Institute predicted that if omicron infections spread to Japan, it could cause economic damage of around 10,000 billion yen in 2022, equivalent to 1.8% of gross domestic product, assuming they cause the same level of critical illness as the Delta. variant.

Kyodo information added. Editor-in-chief Satoshi Sugiyama contributed to this report.

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