• JIJI, KYODO, Staff report

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Japan’s National Institute of Infectious Diseases has raised its coronavirus variant alert on omicron to the highest level as the strain continues to spread worldwide.

The institute designated omicron — previously “a variant of interest,” the second-highest of its three-tiered alert level — as a “variant of concern.”

The highly infectious delta strain is also on the institute’s list of variants of concern. Sunday’s designation followed the World Health Organization classification Friday of omicron as a variant of concern.

Omicron contains some 30 mutations to its spike protein, which could make it more contagious and resistant to vaccines, according to the Japanese institute.

Japan plans to effectively close borders to new entries of foreign nationals, including business travelers, foreign students and foreign interns, government sources said Monday, as fears of the new variant grow.

The envisioned plan reportedly does not affect foreign residents re-entering Japan and Japanese nationals. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida was to make an official announcement in the afternoon.

The government has not announced the detection of any cases of the omicron variant, but the strain has been found in Europe and Australia as more countries have imposed travel restrictions to try to seal themselves off.

Japan on Sunday added Mozambique, Malawi and Zambia to its list of nations subject to tighter entry rules following the discovery of the new variant after it started requiring travelers who have recently been to the African countries of Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa or Zimbabwe to spend 10 days in a government-designated facility upon arrival from Saturday.

During the 10 days, travelers from the designated countries must take coronavirus tests on the third, sixth and 10th day after their arrival.

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