• Jiji, Kyodo

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The government is considering strengthening its restrictions on entry from the U.K. following the discovery of a variant of the novel coronavirus there and elsewhere in the world, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said Tuesday.

“We’ll consider necessary steps, such as halting entry of short-term business travelers,” the top government spokesman told a news conference.

Currently, entry from the U.K. is banned in principle, but people on short-term business trips are allowed to enter Japan.

“We’ll firmly prevent a further spread of infections and make efforts to reassure people,” Kato said.

Kato said on Monday that Japan had yet to confirm any cases of the new strain of the coronavirus.

The health ministry is in close contact with the British government and the World Health Organization, he said.

Several countries including Belgium, France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands have halted flights from the U.K. after the new strain was found to be causing a rise in infections in London and southeast England.

Japan already denies entry to foreign nationals without resident status who have recently been to most other parts of the world including Europe, with some exceptions for humanitarian reasons. The country saw just 56,700 foreign visitors in November, a 97.7% dive from a year earlier.

British health officials have said the new strain could be up to 70% more transmissible, but that there was no evidence of it being deadlier or reducing the effectiveness of vaccines.

Kato said the government would release information on the new strain to the public as it becomes available in an “appropriate manner.”

With the resumption of economic activity, Japan has seen a resurgence in coronavirus infections in recent weeks ahead of the year-end holiday season.

Cumulatively, the country has seen more than 200,000 COVID-19 cases including about 700 aboard a cruise ship that was quarantined in Yokohama earlier this year, with just under 3,000 attributed deaths.

It took less than two months for the country to log 100,000 new cases after reaching 100,000 infections on Oct. 29.

Roughly a quarter of the cases have occurred in Tokyo, and the capital raised its alert regarding the strain on the medical system to its highest level on Thursday, when it logged a record 822 daily cases.

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