The Japanese government is beefing up the monitoring of new strains of the coronavirus as infections with mutated viruses are being discovered across the country.
As of Thursday, 202 people had been confirmed to be infected mainly with the variant first reported in Britain. The figure includes those discovered at airport quarantine stations.
Experts point out that variants with a mutation called E484K may weaken the efficacy of vaccines. They are calling for stepped-up vigilance against the mutation.
Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide said on Friday at a meeting of the government coronavirus taskforce that a quicker method to detect variants will be adopted in all prefectures, beginning in March.
The government has already boosted the number of staff at the National Institute of Infectious Diseases involved in genome sequencing so that it can handle up to 800 cases per week.
The government is now working to enable the public health institutes across the nation to carry out tests that can identify variants in a shorter period of time starting from next month.