Tokyo, Dec 25 (efe-epa).- Japanese authorities on Friday said they had detected the first cases of a new variant of the coronavirus in five passengers who arrived in the Asian country from the United Kingdom.
Health Minister Norihisa Tamura said the cases were reported when authorities revised tests on passengers who had landed at two airports between 18-21 December.
He added that the five passengers had since gone into self-isolation.
The minister said that two of the cases were discovered by Covid-19 tests at the Haneda Airport in Tokyo while three others were picked up at Kansai Airport in Osaka.
The five passengers in question tested positive for Covid-19 upon their arrival in Japan and retrospective sample analysis confirmed the disease has been caused by the new variant of coronavirus spreading through parts of south and southeast England, including London.
The minister divulged neither the identity nor the nationality of the patients.
UK health officials said that early analysis had shown the new variant of the coronavirus to be more contagious than previous strains. The news prompted a raft of European countries to close their borders to UK travelers.
The minister said that four of the confirmed cases in Japan were asymptomatic.
Japan on Thursday halted air traffic arrivals from the UK, but the ban does not include Japanese nationals or foreign residents of Japan.
This ban is to be rolled out to include South African air traffic following the detection of a mutated coronavirus in the African country, the government said Friday.