• Kyodo, Jiji

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The government said Tuesday that it will impose a six-day quarantine period on travelers who have recently been to Vietnam and Malaysia as part of efforts to prevent the spread of the highly-contagious Indian coronavirus variant.

Starting Friday, anyone who has been to either of the countries within 14 days of arrival will be required to stay in a government-designated facility and be tested twice for infection.

Japan will also impose a quarantine period of 10 days on travelers who have recently been in Afghanistan, as well as a period of self-isolation lasting three days for those recently in Thailand and 15 U.S. states including New York and California.

"We will take the necessary steps in a timely manner," Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato, said at a news conference in reference to the government's border controls.

Meanwhile, starting Friday travelers who have been to Israel or Slovakia within 14 days of arrival will no longer be subject to a three-day quarantine period amid easing concerns over the British coronavirus variant.

Japan has already imposed a travel ban on 159 countries and regions, restricting entry of foreign nationals, including those with resident status, who have been to those countries within the past two weeks, except under special circumstances. The tightened border controls will mostly affect Japanese citizens returning to Japan.

The government is on high alert for a coronavirus variant identified in Vietnam.

Vietnamese health minister Nguyen Thanh Long has said that the Vietnamese variant is extremely dangerous, as it is a hybrid of strains first found in Britain and India.

Japan is rushing to collect information and analyze the variant through cooperation with the World Health Organization and others.

At a news conference Monday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said that Japan has not confirmed any domestic case of the Vietnamese variant.

The government has been criticized for failing to tighten border controls quickly enough to prevent the British and Indian variants from entering Japan.

Kato said the government will take necessary countermeasures in a timely way to dispel the public's concerns.

The COVID-19 state of emergency entered an extended period in nine prefectures Tuesday. The focus is whether Japan will be able to reduce new infection cases and improve the medical system situation before June 20, when the emergency is now set to expire in the nine prefectures as well as Okinawa Prefecture.

"The government will continue taking countermeasures thoroughly to curb new infections across the country," Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told an executive meeting of his ruling Liberal Democratic Party on Monday.

"The government will continue its support for restaurants and people affected by the state of emergency to protect businesses and jobs," he added, resolved to do the utmost to shore up the economy.

The emergency, the third of its kind in the country, was previously set to expire on Monday in Hokkaido, Tokyo, Aichi, Kyoto, Osaka, Hyogo, Okayama, Hiroshima and Fukuoka prefectures.

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