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Japan says it’s identified a new COVID-19 variant

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Japan’s National Institute of Infectious Diseases said authorities have found a new strain of the coronavirus in four passengers arriving from Brazil.

The new variant has similarities to strains found in the U.K. and South Africa, the NIID said in a statement on Sunday. The information about the new variant is limited to its genetic make-up, and it’s difficult to immediately determine how infectious the strain is or the effectiveness of current vaccines against it, the institute said.

In a separate statement, Japan’s Ministry of Health said the four passengers who arrived at Japan’s Haneda airport from Brazil on Jan. 2 were later diagnosed with a variant of the virus. One male in his 40s, who was asymptomatic upon arrival, was hospitalized as his respiratory system worsened.

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The NIID has informed the World Health Organization of the new strain, the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper reported, adding the institute is investigating if the variant causes more severe cases.

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