Japan to suspend entry of overseas travelers due to omicron

TOKYO — The Japanese government will suspend all new entries into the country by foreign nationals, citing the emergence of the omicron variant of COVID-19. It had lifted its entry ban earlier this month for foreign business travelers and students, but has reversed course in hopes of preventing another wave of infections.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters on Monday that the government is dealing with the threat of the omicron variant “with a strong sense of crisis.”

As an emergency precautionary measure, Japan will ban all foreigners from entering the country, starting from Tuesday. Japanese nationals returning to Japan from South Africa and other countries where infection has been detected will be placed in strict quarantine at designated facilities, depending on the risk. The temporary measure is meant as a precaution until more information on the omicron strain becomes available.

After Japan’s infection numbers plummeted, the government on Nov. 8 approved the entry of foreign business travelers, students, and technical interns. The new arrivals must be approved by the ministries and agencies in charge of overseeing the companies and organizations receiving such travelers. The country remains closed to tourists.

Hirokazu Matsuno, the chief cabinet secretary, said at a news conference that no cases of the omicron strain had been confirmed in Japan, as of Monday morning.

The minimum quarantine period for entrants was shortened to three days for short-term stays for business, provided a detailed description of the person’s whereabouts in Japan is submitted. The quarantine for technical interns and foreign students was 10 days for those who are vaccinated.

The government has decided to suspend these measures in response to the emergence of the omicron variant. This means, in principle, that only Japanese nationals or foreign nationals with reentry visas will be allowed to enter the country. Omicron was designated a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization on Friday.

Its emergence has rattled markets, triggered travel bans and put vaccine makers on alert. Cases of the Omicron virus have already been found in Germany, Italy, Australia, the Netherlands and other countries outside Africa. Israel has decided to ban all foreigners from entering the country. The U.S. and Europe have also announced restrictions on travel from South Africa and other countries.

To minimize the chances of new outbreaks in Japan, the government already imposes strict conditions on the entry of new business travelers into the country, such as requiring that they be strictly overseen by their host company or organization.

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