Amid the inoculation drives that are ongoing in various countries across the world, the Japanese authorities have found more than 90 patients carrying a new completely new variant of the COVID-19 virus. According to Japan government’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobo Kato, the new virus strain is known as E48K and as many as 90 patients in the Kanto area of eastern Japan have tested positive for it.

According to a report by Japan’s National Institute of Infectious Diseases, the new variant of the COVID-19 virus may have come from overseas but is different from the one that originated in the United Kingdom and South Africa.

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

Japan has had over four hundred thousand cases of COVID-19 and so far 7,194 people have lost their lives. According to new developments, 5 staff and 39 foreign detainees at the Tokyo Immigration facility have also tested positive for COVID-19. Citing privacy concerns, the Japanese representatives have declined to comment as to what nationalities these new patients belong to. Thankfully, none of the cases are serious in nature and all infected patients are quarantined.

According to medical experts, there are thousands of variants of the coronavirus. Experts suggest that many of these variants of viruses may not possibly lead to more infections or wide-spread diseases. But the emergence of the two new contagious strains in the UK and South Africa have alarmed governments to increase their efforts into genome sequencing of the virus to track the next dangerous mutations that may surprise the world.

The Japanese government has said that it is too soon to determine whether the new mutations will “have significant public implications”, according to The Washington Post. However, the local health authorities in Japan are classifying the mutation as a “variant of concern”.

What do we know about the new COVID-19 strain found in Japan? 

The fast-evolving SARS-CoV2 has had multiple mutated variants in the past. Of these mutations, the newly discovered E48K mutation is also known as “escape mutation”. It gets its name for its ability to reduce the neutralization activity of antibodies and may also escape from the antibodies of the COVID-19 patients. This new strain weakens the efficacy of the recently developed and approved vaccines.

Researchers have also found that the newfound mutation E484K drives the protein to have more favourable electrostatic interactions, which leads to altering its binding affinity. Simply put, the new strain strengthens the bonding between the receptor and the viral protein. This leads to a reduction in the immune response of the host.