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Japan to bar all new foreign visitors as omicron fears grow

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Monday that Japan will close borders to new entries of foreign nationals, including business travelers, foreign students and foreign interns from Tuesday as fears of the new omicron variant of the coronavirus grow.

“This is a preventive, emergency measure to avoid a worst-case scenario,” Kishida told reporters at the Prime Minister’s Office.

The entry ban does not affect foreign residents re-entering Japan and Japanese nationals. But Japanese citizens and foreign residents re-entering Japan traveling from 14 countries where cases of the omicron variant have been confirmed will be required to quarantine in government-designated facilities, Kishida said.

“This is an extraordinary measure for the time being just until we know more about the omicron variant,” Kishida said.

The omicron variant may be more infectious than other strains, but relatively little is known about how transmissible and better able to evade the body’s immune responses it is.

The prime minister urged the public to remain calm, wear masks and maintain social distancing, stressing that Japan has the highest vaccination rate among Group of Seven countries and that it still remains relatively early since a large portion of the population received their second shots of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Kishida also said that there had been one traveler from Namibia who tested positive for COVID-19. It was unclear if the person had been infected with the omicron variant, but the sample had been sent to a lab to make that determination, a process that was expected to take four to five days, he added.

On Nov. 8, Japan started allowing new entries of foreign students and technical interns for the first time in nearly a year, provided they quarantine for 14 days, a span that would be shortened to 10 days if they are vaccinated.

Monday’s announcement is especially bad news for foreign students — who make up the largest chunk of foreign nationals hoping to newly enter Japan — with many having already started paperwork to come after studying remotely from their home countries for up to more than a year.

Japan has been gradually tightening entry restrictions since the new variant began spreading quickly around the globe. Over the weekend, it initially required travelers from nine hot spots in Africa — Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi and Zambia — to spend 10 days in government-designated quarantine facilities upon arrival.

Under Monday’s new restrictions for returning residents and Japanese citizens, Angola was added to the hot spot list, which requires all 10 nations to spend 10 days at government-designated facilities, with four more at a place of their choosing.

Similarly, those from Israel, the U.K., the Netherlands and Italy will be required to quarantine for six days at a government-designated facility, as well as eight more days at a place of their choosing. Those from Australia, Germany, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Hong Kong, France, Canada’s Ontario, Belgium and Austria will be required to quarantine for three days at government facilities and 11 more days at a place of their choosing.

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