TOKYO — As the new EG.5 coronavirus variant spreads globally, experts are warning that it is somewhat more infectious than prior strains and may continue to take hold within Japan.
The World Health Organization (WHO) on Aug. 9 designated EG.5 as a “variant of interest.” According to the organization, EG.5 accounted for 21.1% of infections worldwide between July 24 and 30. EG.5 is reportedly slightly more infectious than the previously dominant XBB strain and more able to evade the immune system. While the variant represents a growing number of infections in East Asia, North America and Europe, there are no reports indicating it leads to more severe illness.
EG.5 infections are also spreading in Japan. According to materials from a Tokyo Metropolitan Government analysis, EG.5 accounted for 26.0% of the total number of cases from July 24 to 30, becoming the leading variant in the country.
As the EG.5 strain takes over, could the number of infections rise? Atsuo Hamada, a specially appointed professor at Tokyo Medical University and expert on infectious diseases, said, “It is unlikely that the number of cases will increase rapidly due to EG.5 alone, but it is necessary to keep watch on the situation.”
According to data announced by the health ministry on Aug. 18, the average number of infected people reported by certain medical institutions nationwide over the period of Aug. 7 to Aug. 13 was 14.16, a slight decrease from the previous week. This may have been due to schools’ summer breaks and the closure of medical facilities during the Obon summer holiday.
“The virus is expected to spread due to the increased movement of people during the Obon holidays. Although people will likely spend a lot of time in air-conditioned rooms indoors due to the heat, they need to ventilate the air regularly and wear masks in places where many others are present,” Hamada pointed out. Those who have developed symptoms are being advised to stop going to work and undergo testing.
Inoculations in Japan from this fall onwards are expected to utilize the vaccines that were used against the XBB.1.5 omicron subvariant. The two variants are seen as having a similar structure. “We can hope this will also be effective against EG.5,” Hamada said.