• Kyodo, staff report

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Japan reported its first community transmission of the omicron variant of the coronavirus in Osaka Prefecture, with three people confirmed to have contracted the virus through unknown routes, the prefecture’s governor said Wednesday.

“It is seen to be the first community spread in the country,” Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura said, at a time when Japan remains on alert over omicron with strict border controls in place.

Health minister Shigeyuki Goto confirmed to reporters that the cases amounted to a community transmission, adding that the government will maintain the current border control measures for the time being to buy time to prepare measures against the variant.

Goto said the government had asked prefectural governments to check their testing and hospital bed capabilities to prepare for a possible outbreak.

Out of the four people the prefectural government reported on Wednesday as having been infected with the variant, three are family members with no history of travel overseas.

The three — a man and a woman in their 30s and a girl younger than 10 — developed mild symptoms, such as a fever, between Saturday and Monday and are hospitalized.

The man is a teacher and had been working until a day before he felt sick on Saturday, according to prefectural officials. The prefectural government will conduct PCR tests on all teachers and students at the school where he works.

The fourth person is a man in his 30s who had returned from overseas. The man tested negative at airport checks, but had been quarantining at a hotel in the prefecture designated for close contacts of omicron patients since he was on a flight where a case of omicron infection was found. He later tested positive for omicron and was hospitalized.

Yoshimura called on people to take preventive measures taking into account that a community transmission of the variant has occurred.

Also on Wednesday, Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki said two Japanese men working at U.S. bases in Okinawa were confirmed to have been infected with omicron, increasing the total number of known omicron infections in the prefecture to six.

The news came days after the first report of a case of omicron infection having slipped through initial testing at an airport in Japan. A woman in her 20s tested positive for the variant while she was quarantining at her home in Tokyo after returning from the United States.

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