Lambda Is On The Lam In Japan

(First posted 23:59 August 18th, revised and updated 00:40 am August 19)

The Tokyo 2020 Olympics are over but they may leave a lasting legacy in Japan: the deadly COVID19 Lambda variant; it first arrived on July 20th, when a woman in her thirties from Peru, accredited with the Tokyo 2020 games arrived at Haneda Airport. The government only admitted to the arrival of the variant after our reports on August 6. Tonight at 10:39 pm NHK reported that the Ministry of Health failed to conduct an investigation into those in close contact with her, or notify the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee. The Lambda variant, originally found in Peru, has killed thousands there and in July of this year accounted for 90% of new COVID19 cases. It has been associated with a high-mortality rate, around 9%, and a recent study suggested, “it could pose a threat to the human race.”

Whether the Lambda variant is as deadly as the Delta variant remains to be seen, but it’s definitely not a variant you want to welcome into your home.

The Story So Far

The lambda variant travelled to Japan with a woman who had resided in Peru. She tested positive for COVID19 upon arriving at Haneda Airport, on April 20, and was quarantined. On July 23, the National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NIID) determined that she was infected with the Lambda variant and reported this to the Ministry of Health. On July 26, the Ministry reported their findings to an international infectious diseases database, GISAID. Despite, concerns at the NIID, the government decided to postpone an announcement of the findings until after the Olympics had concluded.

On August 6, after our first report, the Ministry released details to the Japanese press and gave comments to The Daily Beast. The Ministry has denied that they were covering up the entry of the variant, due to the Olympics, saying that it did not meet their criteria for public disclosure. However, today on August 19, the cabinet spokesman, at a press conference announced that the Ministry was rethinking it’s policy on handling of variants and would be more forthcoming with information in the future.

Lambda On The Loose?

Then at 10:39 pm, NHK News, reported the following. The Ministry of Health had failed to send critical information to the local government where the Lambda carrier was being quarantined. The Ministry of Health normally sends a list of people who may have been in close contact with a carrier to the local government responsible for carrying out an investigation into the source of the virus, and preventing the spread of it into the public. This list usually includes the seating chart of the aircraft, when the infection is confirmed by a quarantine station at the airport.

NHK reported that after the woman was confirmed to be infected with the Lambda virus, the Ministry failed to notify the local government where she was staying and neither her name nor the list was not sent to the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee. This raises the possibility that Lambda variant is already on the lam in Japan, spreading into the local population.

The World Health Organization considers Lambda a “variant of interest” (VOI) but has not yet labeled it a variant of concern (VOC), a term reserved for variant that are either highly infectious, resistant to vaccines, and/or result in higher mortality. Japan has not classified the variant yet and is only testing for it at airports. This means that if the virus has made it into the general population, it’s unlikely to be found until it has taken root—because there is no screening or sampling for the virus being conducted. Japan has consistently failed to conduct the basis of COVID19 prevention and containment: widely test, trace, isolate, medicate and vaccinate.

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW) told NHK that “the person in charge was so busy with work that he forgot to send the list,” and that they will set up a system to double-check that the list was sent. They have also downplayed the risk of Lambda, saying that it is on the wane in many countries and less virulent than the Delta variant. However…..

Know Your Lambda

On July 28, Japanese scientists posted a report on the Lambda variant eight days after its domestic detection. The document is yet to be peer-reviewed. 

In the document, the authors state that the Lambda variant is highly infectious, less susceptible to current vaccinations, and shows resistance to antiviral immunity elicited by vaccination. The report continues that because the “Lambda variant is relatively resistant to the vaccine-induced antisera” (blood serum containing antibodies produced in response to vaccination), “it might be possible that this variant is feasible to cause breakthrough infection” in already vaccinated populations. The scientists worry the variant’s categorization as a VOI instead of a VOC downplay the virus’s potential threat to public health. 

The People of Tokyo Hate The Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Why do they protest?

Yesterday, June 23rd, marked one month before the opening of the “cursed” Tokyo 2020 Olympics and hundreds of residents marked the occasion by holding a protest in front of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Headquarters. As the delta variant of the novel-coronavirus spreads rapidly and public health concerns are rising, the clamor to call-off the Olympics is increasing. Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike was not there to hear the voices of protest yesterday; she is in the hospital due to “fatigue.” The government swears it’s not due to COVID-19 and of course, we believe them. 

(Update) The protest will begin at 18:00 by the front entrance on the second floor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building No.1, and will migrate to the Shinjyuku ALTA building at 19:00. Further guidelines for the protest can be found at the hangorin group’s (anti-Olympics) tumbler page. The organization will also livestream the protest on YouTube from 18:00.

In collaboration with this domestic demonstration, international anti-Olympic organizations in Los Angeles, U.S., Pyeongchang, South Korea, and ironically Paris, France, where the IOC was born, are scheduled to hold simultaneous protests.

Continue reading The People of Tokyo Hate The Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Why do they protest?

Tokyo Olympics could breed new COVID19 variant that kills “on a number even unthinkable in a conventional war.”

by Chihiro Kai

Dr Naoto Ueyama, Chairman of Japan Doctors Union called upon the international community to unite and pressure the Japanese government to cancel the Tokyo Olympics scheduled to commence in July. 

“I don’t think it can be said that the Olympics can be held in a safe way,” he said. 

Ueyama said the international competition, which would gather over 80,000 people including athletes and staff from 200 countries, could distribute existing variants such as the U.K., Brazilian, South African and Indian strains across the globe, or behave as a petri dish for a new potentially more fatal mutation. 

“And if that were to happen, the number of victims indeed would be on a number even unthinkable in a conventional war,” Ueyama said. 

He noted it’s possible that the games could even produce a variant known as “The Tokyo 2020” strain, something that would make the games live forever in infamy.

Ueyama explained that viruses undergo constant mutations. This is why the annual flu vaccines are updated to accommodate that year’s most prevalent variant. Covid-19 will continue to change, in the process adapting existing mechanisms that circumvent the human immune system to infect a host’s cell with greater efficacy. Ueyama said slow vaccine rollouts that delay the development of herd immunity or gathering large groups of potential carriers together rik giving the different variants further opportunity to mutate. 

“The IOC should recognize that they are calling upon the athletes, the people of Japan and global citizens to take on these risks,” Ueyama said. “We will be facing a situation where lives aren’t being lost in a battlefield but lives are being lost as a result of something which should be a peaceful celebration or even a celebration of peace itself.” 

Not only could variants be less susceptible to available vaccines, they could also avoid detection by multiplying in areas that aren’t swabbed by current PCR tests. Ueyama said a variant that reproduces in the lungs, for example, would be difficult to catch with PCR tests that collect samples from saliva or nasal swabs. Such a “Tokyo Olympic strain,” as Ueyama coined it, would not only jeopardize developing countries or regions in conflict without access to running water or health care, but endanger vaccinated individuals in countries with aggressive immunization campaigns like the United States. 

“The IOC should recognize that they are calling upon the athletes, the people of Japan and global citizens to take on these risks,” Ueyama said. “We will be facing a situation where lives aren’t being lost in a battlefield but lives are being lost as a result of something which should be a peaceful celebration or even a celebration of peace itself.” 

Japan’s hospitals are already overwhelmed by the relatively low infection to population ratio. Ueyama said in the city of Osaka, a Covid-19 hot spot under an extended state of emergency, the medical system is facing collapse as patients are told to stay home due to the lack of hospital beds for infected patients. The chairman, who lost a colleague to the virus, said an increasing number of nurses are quitting their jobs as the rising number of patients and work hours strain their other obligations to their children or elderly relatives. The organization is also seeing doctors, especially in the Kansai area, suffer from severe exhaustion and stress. 

Covid-19 is highlighting the nation’s deficit in medical personnel. When asked whether university hospitals in Tokyo would begin accepting more covid patients in case of an Olympics induced surge, Ueyama said even if the hospitals provided sufficient treatment facilities or beds, they lack the doctors and nurses needed to fully utilize them. Critical resources are also being stretched thin. Japan is one of many countries suffering the consequence of a serious global anesthetic shortage, without which critical patients can’t be intubated. The inability to implement proper treatments for those in need compounds the strain placed on weary medical practitioners riding Japan’s fourth virus wave. 

The timing of the Olympics could further exacerbate the shortage in medical staff and resources. Ueyama said the months of July and August are characterized by a spike in heat stroke patients requiring urgent care. Three years ago, a heat wave following the end of the rainy season hospitalized a record number of people from heat exhaustion. In response to the Japanese government’s request for hospitals in Tokyo and surrounding prefectures to reserve beds for Olympic personnel, Ueyama said that would be implausible. 

“During that season, if we imagine also that Covid-19 will not yet be under control, and not only this, we may see a continuing increase in the India strain, it will not be possible for hospitals to provide special treatment to those involved in the Olympics,” he said. 

The Tokyo 2020 Olympics may live on as a new strain of COVID19.

Ueyama said Japan’s belated vaccine rollout is also unlikely to affect Olympic safety. The current phase targeting the 65 and up demographic that makes up 20-30% of the population, is scheduled to conclude at the end of July, overlapping with the first week of the games. Regardless of whether Japan meets this ambitious immunization timeline, the Olympic volunteers that will be interacting with the athletes and their staff are under 65 years old, and therefore ineligible for the vaccine. Ueyama said the daily pcr tests for all Olympic personnel proposed as the compromise in the Tokyo 2020 playbook is insufficient to control and contain the virus. 

The doctor criticizes the IOC’s insistence that it is safe to host the games in Japan. He recommended the establishment of a global framework enforced by an international body similar to the IAEA or the UN’s Security Council to deal with the current and future pandemics “to save all of humankind from this crisis.” 

“Such a decision (to host the Olympics during a pandemic) is not something just to be made only by the IOC or only by the one host country. I am a fan of the Olympics. However, I do not believe they should go ahead while putting many people at danger and holding them will force many people to make sacrifices even in regard to their life, in order for them to take place.”