Omicron Scare: Japan bans all incoming foreign travelers for one month

The government of Japan on Monday announced that it will ban all incoming foreign travelers for one month effective Tuesday in an effort to prevent the omicron variant from spreading domestically.

New restrictions will encompass all new entries including foreign exchange students, interns and those traveling for business from every country in the world.

The entry ban will not affect Japanese nationals or foreign residents returning to the country, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said, but those returning from designated countries where the variant has been reported will need to isolate at a government-designated facility for three to 10 days.

“This is a preventative, emergency measure to avoid a worst-case scenario,” Kishida told reporters.

“Research is needed to determine how contagious the omicron variant is globally, and whether vaccines are still effective in preventing transmission or severe symptoms,” he said.

“It’s crucial that we respond to the situation quickly and flexibly.”

Entry into Japan from nine African countries had been tightened over the weekend after a fervor of chilling reports emerged last week about a new virus strain discovered in South Africa that experts warn could be more contagious than all previous iterations of COVID-19.

One traveler from Namibia had tested positive for COVID-19 while under quarantine at a dedicated facility in Japan, health minister Shigeyuki Goto said Monday.

The individual is being screened for the omicron variant by the National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NIID), a process that health ministry officials said will take four to five days.

The health ministry said Monday that the country’s daily entry cap, which was raised to 5,000 travelers on Friday, will be lowered again to 3,500 on Wednesday.

“The country is buying time,” said Koji Wada, a professor of public health at the International University of Health and Welfare and a member of the health ministry’s expert coronavirus panel.

“If the variant hasn’t already arrived in Japan, it will soon, so the next challenge will be that of containment.”

Less than a month has passed since Japan began loosening its border policies amid a slump in new cases. From November 8, new entries were allowed for the first time in nearly a year provided they quarantine for 14 days, or for 10 days if they were fully vaccinated.