Japan announced Monday that it would shut its borders to foreigners for a month to prevent the spread of Omicron — joining Israel in imposing some of the strictest border controls since the variant’s discovery in southern Africa.
Foreigners will be banned beginning Tuesday, while Japanese travelers returning from specified countries will have to quarantine in designated facilities for three to 10 days, said Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.
“These are temporary, exceptional measures that we are taking for safety’s sake until there is clearer information about the Omicron variant,” Kishida told reporters. “I’m prepared to bear all criticism from those saying the Kishida administration is being too cautious.”
He added: “Research is needed to determine how contagious the Omicron variant is globally, and whether vaccines are still effective in preventing transmission or severe symptoms,” the Japan Times reported.
The Foreign Ministry said the tighter measures included extending mandatory hotel quarantines to six days instead of three for travelers from the UK, while for those from countries including Australia and Austria the duration rises to three days from none.
The move comes after Japan on Friday said it would strengthen border controls on people arriving from six African countries, even though no cases of Omicron have been detected in the country.
It also follows the government’s easing of border controls amid calls from business lobbies in the country, the world’s third-largest economy.
Just last week, a monthly limit on inbound travelers was raised from 3,500 to 5,000 and earlier this month, quarantine periods were shortened for vaccinated passengers. The entry cap will again be lowered to 3,500 on Wednesday, the Japan Times said.
“The country is buying time,” said Koji Wada, a professor at Tokyo’s International University of Health and Welfare and a member of the Health Ministry’s coronavirus panel.
“If the variant hasn’t already arrived in Japan, it will soon, so the next challenge will be that of containment,” he said.
“This is a good opportunity for the government to show their attitude toward COVID-19, and I think many people will support this decision,” Wada added. “The problem is, shutting down the border is not a solution. The government should have a middle-term plan on how to handle this Omicron virus.”
Tokyo reported eight new cases Monday, down from more than 5,000 a day in the weeks following the Summer Olympics held in the capital.
The World Health Organization last week said it could take “days to several weeks” to determine the severity of the new variant.
On Saturday, Israel announced plans to close its borders to visitors.
With Post wires