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New COVID-19 variant prompts Japan to tighten border controls on three more African countries

Japan added Mozambique, Malawi and Zambia to its list of nations subject to tighter entry rules on Sunday, bringing the total on the list to nine, following the discovery of a new coronavirus variant in South Africa.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters Saturday his government wants to make sure that “border control measures are firmly implemented,” one day after it started requiring travelers who have recently been to Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa or Zimbabwe to spend 10 days in a government-designated facility upon arrival.

During the 10 days, travelers from the designated countries must take a coronavirus test on the third, sixth and 10th day after their arrival.

The World Health Organization said Friday a new coronavirus strain detected in South Africa is a highly transmissible “variant of concern” and named it “omicron.”

The emergence of the B.1.1.529 variant, first reported to WHO from South Africa on Wednesday, has caused authorities worldwide to react with alarm, with many nations moving quickly to tighten travel restrictions.

Britain was among the first countries to suspend flights from southern African countries.

Japan’s National Institute of Infectious Diseases has placed omicron at the second-highest warning level of its three-tier variant alert.

The institute designated the omicron variant as “a variant of interest.” No infection case involving the variant has been confirmed in the country.

The omicron variant is said to reduce the effect of vaccines. The institute plans to conduct genome analysis of the variant and prepare for PCR tests for it.

The highly contagious delta variant is on the institute’s list of “a variant of concern,” its highest alert level.

A rapid spread of the delta variant had led to the fifth wave of COVID-19 infections in Japan in summer, with daily cases hitting highs of 25,000 nationwide in August.

The government is on high alert over a possible sixth wave, especially with the discovery of the new variant.

“The key in crisis management is to prepare for a worst-case scenario,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said at a news conference on Friday.

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