Japan will maintain its strict border control measures "for the time being" amid uncertainty over the omicron variant of the coronavirus, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Tuesday.

Even with the number of daily confirmed coronavirus cases staying at low levels and a lack of community spread of the omicron variant, Kishida said Japan needs to strengthen its preparedness by accelerating booster shot rollouts and promoting orally administered COVID-19 drugs.

The government initiated the current border control measures in late November, barring new entries by foreign nationals from abroad and requiring returning Japanese nationals and foreign residents to quarantine in government-designated facilities. Kishida said recently that the measures would be extended until early January.

As part of ramped-up antivirus steps, all people found to be infected with COVID-19 will be tested for the omicron variant.

Those who have had close contact with people infected with the new variant will be asked to stay at designated facilities for two weeks, rather than at home.

"Scientific evaluations have yet to be established regarding how transmissible omicron is and how serious (the disease caused by it) will get," Kishida told a news conference held after the conclusion of a 16-day extraordinary parliament session.

"We have decided to extend the current border control measures (put in place in late November) for the time being," Kishida said.

Following the lifting of a protracted COVID-19 state of emergency in October, Japan has not seen a surge in coronavirus cases and over 77% of the population has been vaccinated twice against the coronavirus.

The government is now seeking to accelerate the rollout of COVID-19 booster shots, with health care workers and senior citizens receiving priority. U.S. vaccine suppliers Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc. have said third shots will boost antibody levels and offer protection against omicron. The health minister has approved the two companies' vaccines for use as booster shots.

In the meantime, the government aims to make U.S. pharmaceutical firm Merck & Co.'s orally administered COVID-19 treatment drug available in Japan before the end of the year and its competitor by Pfizer available in early 2022.

Kishida, who became prime minister in October, has focused on antivirus measures after his predecessor, Yoshihide Suga, saw his public support dwindle over his government's response to the pandemic.

During the extraordinary Diet session, parliament passed a record ¥36 trillion supplementary budget for fiscal 2021 to support the pandemic-hit economy. The prime minister faced criticism for his flip-flop over a cash handout program as the government decided to allow ¥100,000 to be distributed entirely in cash to child-rearing households, rather than its earlier plan for half of the amount to be distributed in vouchers.

"I accept various criticisms that our change to the original policy has caused confusion," the prime minister said.

On wage growth, a requisite for his push for wealth redistribution, Kishida said "all possible tools" should be used to realize pay hikes, adding he will make sure small and midsize companies can raise wages.

Since the pandemic has made in-person meetings with global leaders difficult, Kishida told the news conference he wants to step up diplomacy next year.

"I'd like to hold talks with U.S. President (Joe) Biden at an early date," he said, adding that arrangements are still being made for him to visit the United States.

"Meeting him in person and sharing views on common challenges and building a personal relationship of trust is extremely important," he added.

Asked about Washington's diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, Kishida said he needs more time to weigh various factors before making a decision based on national interests.

Following the U.S., Japan's closest ally, Australia and Britain, among other nations, have also announced they will participate in the diplomatic boycott.

At home, Kishida has faced calls by some conservative lawmakers from his ruling Liberal Democratic Party to join the diplomatic boycott.

China is a major trading partner for Japan but its assertive moves in the East China Sea, where the Japanese-controlled, Chinese-claimed Senkaku Islands are located, has raised alarms.

"We need to say what should be said to China based on the universal values of freedom, democracy, the rule of law and human rights," Kishida said, adding that no summit talks have been planned with President Xi Jinping.

As a Japanese leader who was elected from Hiroshima, Kishida is vocal about the realization of a nuclear-free world.

Japan will do its utmost for the success of a U.N. review conference on the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in January, he said, after the previous meeting in 2015 failed to produce a final document due to disagreements.

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