Japan on alert for infections in the omicron variant community

The health ministry has increased the level of caution against possible community infections with the omicron variant of the coronavirus, strengthening border controls and launching screening tests for the new variant.

Three cases of infection with the omicron variant that were found in Japan – including the first of a Japanese national on Monday – were all detected during quarantine checks at the airport. But experts say they can’t rule out the possibility that the variant is found in communities.

Omicron infections have been confirmed for a Namibian diplomat and a man who arrived from Peru. After the two tested positive for the coronavirus during checks at Narita airport near Tokyo, the omicron variant was detected in them during a genetic analysis by the National Institute of Infectious Diseases.

Under previous Health Ministry rules, airplane passengers seated in the same row as an infected person as well as those in the two rows immediately in front and behind were considered close contacts.

As of November 30, when the Namibian diplomat’s infection with the omicron variant was confirmed, the ministry revised the policy and designated all passengers on the plane carrying an omicron positive individual as close contacts.

The ministry made the review out of consideration of the anxiety among the population, said Health Minister Shigeyuki Goto, with many things still unknown about the omicron variant, including its infectivity and the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines. existing.

Close contacts should undergo a polymerase chain reaction test about every other day and should be isolated for 14 days at designated accommodation facilities so the ministry can closely monitor their activities, an official said.

But a senior ministry official warned that it is difficult to prevent infections by border controls alone given the suspected high infectivity of the variant.

The delta variant, the main cause of the fifth wave of infections in Japan this summer, was first detected in the country by a participant in an airport quarantine check. The delta variant then spread through communities and by August almost all coronavirus infections in Japan were said to have been attributed to the delta variant.

Finding infected people early is key to preventing the spread of community infections. The health ministry has expanded the scope of infection cases submitted for genome analysis and urged local governments to start screening all people positive for the coronavirus to detect any infection with the omicron variant. .

“Even if community infections are discovered, we will contain them and prevent them from spreading,” another senior ministry official said.

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