Japan has confirmed a new variant of COVID-19, and an infection cluster emerged at a Tokyo immigration facility, as the country tries to overcome a third wave of infection in the pandemic.

Key points:The new variant has the E484K mutation on the spike protein which has been found in other variantsJapan has reported 151 cases of variants from Britain, South Africa and Brazil, according to the health ministryThe nation has had more than 400,000 cases of COVID-19 with 7,194 fatalities

The new variant has been found in 91 cases in the Kanto area of eastern Japan and in two cases at airports, chief cabinet secretary Katsunobu Kato said.

The government is increasing surveillance against new strains which may be more resistant to the vaccines the country began rolling out this week.

“It may be more contagious than conventional strains, and if it continues to spread domestically, it could lead to a rapid rise in cases,” Mr Kato said.

The new strain appears to have originated overseas but is different from other types that have been found sporadically in Japan, according to the National Institute of Infectious Diseases.

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It has the E484K mutation on the spike protein of the virus that has been found in other variants.

Japan has reported 151 cases of variants from the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil, according to the health ministry.

Vaccines have already been distributed across Japan.(Reuters: Kim Kyung-Hoon)

The nation has had more than 400,000 cases of COVID-19 with 7,194 fatalities.

Meanwhile, five staff and 39 foreign detainees at a Tokyo immigration facility have tested positive for COVID-19.

All 130 detainees at the facility have been tested for the virus, according to a spokesperson for the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau.

None of the cases is serious, and all infected detainees remain quarantined from others.

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A representative of the facility declined to comment on the nationality of the infected detainees, citing privacy concerns.

Japan’s detention system for immigration law violators and asylum seekers has been widely criticised for its medical standards, monitoring of detainees and response to emergencies.

“Many detainees are locked in a small, closed spaces,” said Motoko Yamagishi, the head of a migrants-rights group.

“It is regrettable that such an outbreak happened in the centre.”

Reuters

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