Japan halts new entries from around world over new virus variant

Kyodo News

Posted at Dec 28 2020 09:35 AM

Japan halts new entries from around world over new virus variant 1
Passersby wearing protective face masks walk on the Shibuya crossing amid the COVID-19 outbreak in Tokyo, Japan, Dec. 26, 2020. Kyodo/Reuters

TOKYO - Japan on Monday suspended new entries into the country by nonresident foreign nationals arriving from most of the world through the end of January as it seeks to prevent the spread of the new, potentially more transmissible coronavirus variant.

The government will also require Japanese citizens and foreign residents coming from countries and territories where the new variant is confirmed to submit negative virus test results within 72 hours of departure and undergo tests upon arrival from Wednesday through the end of January.

The new virus strain, first detected in Britain, has since been confirmed in more than 20 countries as well as in Hong Kong.

Businesspeople and students from 10 Asian nations such as mainland China and South Korea plus Taiwan, with which Japan has a special scheme to ease travel restrictions, are not affected by the latest measure.

Starting Thursday, Japan had already banned new entry by nonresident foreign nationals who have recently been to Britain and South Africa, where another new variant has been detected.

British health officials have said the new strain, first detected in September, could be up to 70 percent more transmissible but there was no evidence of it being deadlier or capable of evading immunity induced by vaccines.

In Japan, 8 people have so far been confirmed to be infected with the variant detected in Britain. They include an airline pilot who returned from London on Dec. 16 and a woman in his family who has no history of visiting Britain.

On Sunday, the health ministry confirmed a Tokyo woman in her 50s who returned from Britain on Dec. 13 has been infected with the variant. She has been hospitalized since last Tuesday and no one had close contact with her.

While the country had been slowly opening up to international travel as it seeks to repair its battered economy and prepare for the rescheduled Olympics next summer, it shifted back toward tightening its borders as the medical system has been significantly strained by a spike in the number of coronavirus cases.

Japan confirmed a record 3,881 coronavirus cases on Saturday.

In an effort to prevent the pandemic from further straining hospitals' ability to treat COVID-19 patients during the year-end and New Year holidays, when there are usually fewer medical personnel on duty, the government also suspended Monday its "Go To Travel" tourism promotion campaign through Jan. 11.

On Dec. 14, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced the decision to expand the suspension of the campaign subsidizing up to half of people's travel expenses to the entire nation.

The scheme, which started in July to help the country's tourism industry that has been hit hard by the pandemic, has already been halted for trips to Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, Hiroshima and Sapporo, which have seen a notable increase in infections.

The nationwide halt of the campaign is estimated to cause a loss of 318.7 billion yen ($308 billion) in potential spending through Jan. 3, with the nation observing a 73 percent drop in the number of travelers from last year due to the pandemic, according to JTB Tourism Research and Consulting Co.

Adventure Inc., the operator of travel reservation website Skyticket, said about 4,000 of the roughly 6,000 reservations made for the suspended period have been canceled since Dec. 14.

The government will cover 50 percent of the losses sustained by travel agencies and hotel operators.

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