Kishida says Japan to keep strict border controls ‘for the time being’

Japan will maintain its strict border control measures “for the time being” amid uncertainty over the omicron variant of the novel coronavirus, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Tuesday.

Speaking at a press conference, Kishida said Japan has not seen a community spread of omicron, but it needs to strengthen its preparedness by accelerating booster shot rollouts and promoting orally administered COVID-19 drugs.

All people found to be infected with COVID-19 will be tested for the omicron variant in Japan, he said.

The government has barred new entries by foreigners from abroad and required returning Japanese nationals and foreign residents to quarantine in government-designated facilities.

“Scientific evaluations have yet to be established regarding how transmissible omicron is and how serious (the disease caused by it) will get,” Kishida told the press conference held after a 16-day extraordinary Diet session.

“We have decided to extend the current border control measures (put in place in late November) for the time being,” Kishida said.

The government is seeking to step up its inoculation drive, giving third shots of COVID-19 vaccines, with health care workers and senior citizens receiving priority.

In the meantime, the government aims to make U.S. pharmaceutical firm Merck & Co.’s orally administered COVID-19 treatment drug available in Japan before the year-end and its competitor Pfizer Inc.’s in early 2022.

Japan has seen a sharp drop in COVID-19 cases even as concerns have grown about omicron’s potential spread.

Kishida has placed priority on antivirus measures.

On wage growth, a requisite for his push for wealth redistribution, Kishida said “all possible tools” should be used to create an environment for wage growth, adding he will make sure small and midsize companies can raise wages.

After the COVID-19 pandemic has made in-person meetings with global leaders difficult, Kishida told the press conference he wants to step up diplomacy next year.

“I’d like to hold talks with U.S. President (Joe) Biden at an early date,” he said, adding that arrangements are still being made for him to visit the United States.

“Meeting him in person and sharing views on common challenges and building a personal relationship of trust is extremely important,” he added.

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