Coronavirus travel ban: Japan sharply tightens ban on foreign visitors over new variant

Japan’s government will temporarily ban entry of all non-resident foreign nationals as a precaution against a new and potentially more contagious coronavirus variant that has spread across Britain.

The entry ban will start Monday and last until January 31 for the time being, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement late on Saturday.

Japan banned entry of non-resident foreigners from Britain and South Africa last week, but is further stepping up border control after confirming the new variant in seven people over the last two days — five returnees from Britain who tested at airports and two others in Tokyo.

Fears over the coronavirus mutation in the UK saw more than 40 countries close their borders to British arrivals from December 20, beginning with France which caused widespread disruption to supply chains across the English Channel. Many European countries followed suit.

Japan is also suspending exemptions of a 14-day quarantine for Japanese nationals and resident foreigners on a short-track programme that began in November. The entrants now must carry proof of a negative test 72 hours prior to departure for Japan and self-isolate for two weeks after arrival, the ministry said.

Japan’s health ministry confirmed on Saturday two cases of the new variant — a man in his 30s who returned to Japan from Britain on December 16 and his relative, a woman in her 20s with no history of visiting that country. Both patients are hospitalised in Tokyo.

On Friday, the ministry said the new variant was detected in samples of five returnees from Britain between December 18 and December 21 who tested positive at airport inspection. All but one who complained of fatigue had no symptoms.

Japan had 217,312 cases as of Saturday, up more than 3,700 from the day before, and 3,213 deaths. Tokyo reported 949 cases, its new daily high, since the pandemic began, despite calls by experts and government officials for the people to spend a “quiet” holiday season.

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