The government announced Monday that it will ban all incoming foreign travelers for one-month effective Tuesday in an effort to prevent the omicron variant from spreading domestically.
New restrictions will encompass all new entries — including foreign exchange students, interns and those traveling for business — from every country in the world.The entry ban will not affect Japanese nationals or foreign residents returning to the country, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said, but those returning from designated countries where the variant has been reported will need to isolate at a government-designated facility for three to 10 days.
“This is a preventative, emergency measure to avoid a worst-case scenario,” Kishida told reporters Monday afternoon.
“Research is needed to determine how contagious the omicron variant is globally, and whether vaccines are still effective in preventing transmission or severe symptoms,” he said. “It’s crucial that we respond to the situation quickly and flexibly.”
Entry into Japan from nine African countries had been tightened over the weekend after a fervor of chilling reports emerged last week about a new virus strain discovered in South Africa that experts warn could be more contagious than all previous iterations of COVID-19.
One traveler from Namibia — one of the nine countries included in the initial announcement — had tested positive for COVID-19 while under quarantine at a dedicated facility in Japan, health minister Shigeyuki Goto said Monday. The individual is being screened for the omicron variant by the National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NIID), a process that health ministry officials said will take four to five days.
The omicron variant contains some 30 mutations — the highest of all known COVID-19 strains — according to the NIID, which suggests a strong possibility that it’s the most transmissible.
Previously, the delta variant exacerbated the pandemic after first being detected in India in late 2020 and then spreading rapidly abroad.
States of emergency, restrictions on public dining and other countermeasures in Japan had already begun to lose impact due to the voluntary nature of the country’s infectious disease policies. The highly contagious delta variant only made things worse, spreading rapidly throughout the country until the outbreak reached a record-breaking peak during the fifth wave in August.
By: Idris Saify