• Kyodo, Jiji

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Japan is considering requiring all inbound travelers to undergo a test for new variants of the coronavirus, health minister Norihisa Tamura said Sunday.

Under the current system, all people arriving from 24 designated countries where coronavirus variants are known to exist are required to take additional testing three days after entering Japan. Authorities also carefully monitor whether they are strictly observing a 14-day self-quarantine period.

While speaking of the need to tighten border controls on an NHK TV program, Tamura also said the government is considering contracting private security companies to monitor those who are self-quarantining to make sure they adhere to the rules.

On Saturday, Japan tightened border controls on travelers from seven additional countries, mainly from Europe.

Japanese and foreign residents of Japan — the only people allowed into the country, in principle — who have recently traveled through Estonia, the Czech Republic, Pakistan, Hungary, Poland, Luxembourg and Lebanon fall under the scope of the expanded controls.

As the government has decided to lift the COVID-19 state of emergency in the Tokyo region on Monday, the minister also said, “It is important to avoid activities with a high risk of infections.”

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga formally announced Thursday that the emergency covering the capital and neighboring Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama prefectures would be lifted Monday.

Under the measure, which was first declared in January, people were urged to refrain from nonessential outings and restaurants and bars were told to close by 8 p.m.

On the same TV program, Shigeru Omi, head of the government’s COVID-19 subcommittee, warned that “a rebound in infections is possible in the next one or two months.”

Omi said it is vital to prevent the further spread of the virus until people age 65 or older are being vaccinated. That demographic is eligible to start receiving shots in mid-April.

Tamura also said that the government will fully provide people with information about vaccinations against the coronavirus.

“People living in areas where they are not registered as residents must also be fully informed about vaccinations,” he said.

Tamura also suggested the possibility of the ministry approving the use of two more vaccines in May. British pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca PLC filed for health ministry approval for its vaccine in February, while Japan’s Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. sought approval for a vaccine developed by U.S. biotech startup Moderna Inc. earlier this month.

Their applications were filed under an emergency process with simplified screening.

“The two vaccines may possibly be approved in May if things go very smoothly,” Tamura said. “We’ll closely check their safety and effectiveness.”

On Saturday, the National Governors’ Association asked the government to thoroughly conduct active epidemiological investigations to identify infection routes and carry out polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests on a large scale as part of the fight against the coronavirus, including mutant strains.

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