Omicron variant in Japan requires border closure

TOKYO – Japan on Monday said it would close its borders to foreigners to prevent the spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, joining Israel in imposing some of the strictest border controls since when this variant was discovered in southern Africa.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters that Japan will ban entry of foreigners from midnight on Monday, and that Japanese returning from specific countries will have to quarantine at designated facilities.

“These are temporary, special measures that we are taking for safety purposes until more clear information about the Omicron variant,” Kishida told reporters.

“I am open to any criticism from those who say that the Kishida government is being too cautious.”

The tougher restrictions mark a rapid tightening after Japan on Friday said it would strengthen border controls for people arriving from six African countries, despite no Omicron cases. discovered in the country and much information about the new variant is still unknown.

Countries around the world have enacted border restrictions since the WHO called Omicron a “worrying variant”.

But Japan’s measures are among the strongest, after Israel banned entry of foreigners and Morocco suspended all incoming flights for two weeks, and they mark a quick turnaround. fast.

The Foreign Office later said the tighter measures included extending the mandatory hotel quarantine to six days from three days for travelers arriving from the UK. For those arriving from countries including Australia and Austria, the time increases to three days compared to none.


Business lobbyists in Japan have been calling for months for the government to relax some of the world’s most restrictive border controls.

Just last week, the monthly limit for domestic travelers was raised from 3,500 to 5,000, and earlier this month the quarantine period was shortened for vaccinated passengers.

A government official said all easing measures would be reversed, although foreigners with existing resident visas would be allowed to return to Japan, as well as some diplomatic and foreign visitors. humanitarian case.

Kishida said he would strengthen Japan’s response to the pandemic after discontent over its handling of the crisis prompted his predecessor Yoshihide Suga to resign in September.

Koji Wada, a professor at Tokyo International University of Health and Welfare and an adviser to the government on the pandemic response, said Japanese citizens are expected to support the “radical decision” even when the business community is not satisfied.

“This is a good opportunity for the government to show its attitude towards COVID-19, and I think many people will support this decision,” Wada said.

“The thing is, closing borders is not a solution. The government should have a medium-term plan for how to deal with this Omicron virus,” he added.

Health Minister Shigeyuki Goto said a tourist from Namibia had tested positive for the new coronavirus but further tests were needed to find out if it was from the new variant.

After a slow start, Japan’s vaccination rate is the highest among the Group of Seven economies, and COVID-19 infections have dropped significantly since the fifth wave peaked in August.

Tokyo reported eight new cases on Monday, down from more than 5,000 cases a day in the weeks following the Summer Olympics held in the Japanese capital.

However, health professionals are concerned about the possibility of recovery this winter and a booster shot is expected to begin December 1.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says it can take “days to weeks” to determine the severity of the new variant.

(Reporting by Elaine Lies, Kantaro Komiya and Rocky Swift; Editing by Tom Hogue, Stephen Coates and Barbara Lewis)


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