Japan says it will bar the entry of all foreign visitors from around the world, just weeks after a softening of strict entry rules, following the emergence of the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
“We will ban the (new) entry of foreigners from around the world starting from November 30,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters, saying the measures would take effect on Tuesday.
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Over the weekend, Japan tightened entry restrictions for people arriving from South Africa and eight other countries in the region, requiring them to undergo a 10-day quarantine at government-designated facilities.
Monday’s announcement means Japan will restore border controls it eased earlier this month for short-term business visitors, foreign students and workers.
The country has recorded just over 18,300 coronavirus deaths during the pandemic but has avoided tough lockdowns. About 76.5 percent of the population is now fully inoculated, despite a slow start.
Many other countries have moved to tighten their borders after the discovery of the new omicron variant, which was identified last week by researchers in South Africa.
Little is known about the strain, including whether it is more contagious, more likely to cause serious illness or more able to evade the protection of vaccines, but that has not stopped countries from Israel to Morocco, the United Kingdom and Singapore from rushing to act.
Noting that the variant has already been detected in many countries and that closing borders often has limited effect, the World Health Organization (WHO) has called for frontiers to remain open.
In a statement, the WHO said it “stands with African nations” and noted that travel restrictions may play “a role in slightly reducing the spread of COVID-19 but place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods.”
It said if restrictions are put in place, they should be scientifically based and not intrusive.
South Africa’s government has responded angrily to the travel bans, which it said were “akin to punishing South Africa for its advanced genomic sequencing and the ability to detect new variants quicker.”