Japan prohibits new entrants from foreigners after the arrival of the virus variant from Reuters

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Tokyo

By Chris Gallagher and Sam Nussey

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan announced on Saturday that it would temporarily ban non-resident foreigners from entering the country as it tightened its borders after a new, highly infectious variant of the coronavirus was discovered.

The ban will come into effect on December 28 and run through January, the government said in a statement sent via email.

Japanese citizens and foreigners are allowed to enter, but must provide evidence of a negative coronavirus test 72 hours prior to their departure to Japan and must be quarantined for two weeks after their arrival.

Japan reported its first cases of a rapidly spreading variant among passengers from the UK on Friday. The new variant was also discovered in a man visiting the UK and a family member – the first cases of infected people found outside of airport controls – Nippon TV reported on Saturday.

The new strain is concerned about a spike in cases as Tokyo saw another record spike on Saturday.

Infections with the virus that causes COVID-19 hit a record 949 in the capital just as Japan goes into the New Year holidays, when people typically flock to the provinces from the capital.

Serious cases remained unchanged at 81 from the previous day.

Tokyo’s transport hubs are subdued, the local media said a day after Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga pressured the nation to stay home and avoid social mixing.

With New Year celebrations centered on family gatherings and mass visits to temples and shrines, experts have warned that public restraint will be essential to preventing infection rates from rising further amid concerns over pandemic fatigue.

Suga’s initial political honeymoon after taking office in September has come to an end. His popularity waned when he was slow to respond to increased infections in Tokyo after criticism and, despite his own caution, attended a group steak dinner.

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