• Jiji


Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is using the spread of the new omicron strain of the coronavirus abroad as an opportunity to showcase his ability to make swift responses.

On Monday, Kishida announced that Japan will ban new entries of foreign nationals arriving from anywhere in the world in principle.

Kishida's quick response apparently reflected lessons he learned from his immediate predecessor, Yoshihide Suga, who came under fire many times for being slow in responding to the virus pandemic.

Meanwhile, it is still unclear whether Japan will be able to prevent the new variant from spreading, as Kishida has not tightened restrictions on people's movements within the country, including those regarding the number of people eating out or attending events..

"I'm ready to accept all criticism that I'm being too cautious about the omicron variant," even though the variant's impact is still unknown, Kishida told reporters after disclosing the tighter border controls.

Kishida also said that the government will take strict quarantine measures mainly on Japanese people who return to Japan from abroad.

As prime minister, Suga faced criticism that his government's optimistic responses to the pandemic put medical care systems under strain. Public approval ratings for his Cabinet continued to fall until he stepped down in September.

Kishida issued an instruction to tighten border controls on Sunday following media reports that infection cases with the omicron variant had been confirmed in Europe and Australia, a senior official of a related government agency said.

"Having a high sense of caution is Kishida's style," the official added.

A lawmaker from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party praised Kishida, saying that he was faster than Suga and former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in crafting responses.

Under the blanket entry ban, effective Tuesday, all entries aside from citizens and residents will be rejected except for specific cases related to humanitarian needs or other considerations.

A senior official of the Foreign Ministry said that the measure is as strict as that taken in Israel.

"It is a de facto emergency declaration for border controls," the official went on to say.

On Nov. 19, the Japanese government adopted revised guidelines on measures against the coronavirus and a new stimulus package to cushion the impact of the virus pandemic on the economy.

Many coronavirus-linked restrictions on people's movements in Japan have been relaxed, while the government's Go To Travel domestic tourism promotion campaign is expected to restart early next year.

At a meeting of government and LDP officials on Monday, Kishida reiterated his eagerness to "resume economic and social activities while paying close attention to the infection situation."

Japan's "tolerance for risk is stronger than other countries," Kishida told reporters after the meeting, while noting that the proportion of people who have received two doses of COVID-19 vaccines in Japan is the highest among the Group of Seven major countries.

But concern over the omicron variant is growing.

"There's no way that the omicron variant will not enter Japan," an experienced LDP lawmaker said.

A government source said Tuesday that a man in his 30s who arrived from Namibia has been found to be infected with the omicron variant after he tested positive for the coronavirus at Narita Airport upon his arrival on Sunday.

Namibia, which borders South Africa, is among the countries the Japanese government tightened entry restrictions for on Friday, soon after the discovery of the omicron variant.

The worldwide entry ban announced by Kishida "is still lax," Masahisa Sato, chair of the LDP's Foreign Affairs Division, said at a party meeting on Monday. Sato called for strict quarantine procedures for those entering Japan in exceptional cases.

The features of the omicron variant and whether existing coronavirus vaccines are effective against it are still unknown.

An official related to the government warned that it is possible the government may reimpose measures to limit people's movements.

"The omicron variant might be a destabilizing factor for the economy," the official said.

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