The Japanese Government announced Saturday that it will ban entry from all countries to prevent the spread of the newly discovered coronavirus mutation hailing from the UK, which is said to be a more contagious form of the virus.
The ban came into effect this morning and will continue through the end of January. Japanese citizens and foreigners living in Japan will still be permitted to return to the country. A 14-day quarantine will be mandatory for all those who enter Japan during the period.
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Why it matters: Japan has ongoing bilateral business travel arrangements with 11 countries – including China and South Korea – and they will be maintained to avoid disruptions to economic activity. However, since most foreigners have been entering the country through this arrangement, this new travel ban might be limited in its ability to restrict foreign entry into Japan.
• Japan currently bans entry from 152 nations, but it has allowed entry to foreign students or business professionals planning long-term stays since October. The issuance of those visas has now been suspended, but those who have already acquired visas can still enter after Monday.
• No entry from the U.K. and South Africa – two countries where the new variant is spreading – has already been suspended.
• As of Saturday, seven people who entered Japan after flying in from Britain were confirmed to be infected with the new strain.
• “At this point, we don’t know how threatening the new strain is,” a government official said. “We took stringent action for the sake of prevention.”
More details: Such drastic measures could be seen as an attempt by the Japanese government to ensure the Tokyo Olympics – scheduled to begin in July 2021 – will still be safe to hold.
• Besides the UK, the new strain has been detected in Italy, the Netherlands, Denmark, Australia, and Germany. The variant is said to be 70% more contagious than the original strain, but initial testing results have not shown it making people sicker.
• The government has also suspended the exemption of a 14-day quarantine for Japanese nationals and resident foreigners. Entrants must now carry proof of a negative test 72 hours prior to departure for Japan, and will be required to self-isolate for two weeks after arrival.
• Japan recorded 3,881 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday, a new record daily tally.
Looking ahead: Atsuo Hamada, a professor at Tokyo Medical University, suggested that Japan should initiate stronger anti-virus measures including stricter border control, assuming that the new COVID-19 variant has already entered the country to some extent.
• “Once a highly transmissible variant spreads, the number of infections could surpass 2,000 in a single day in Tokyo, eventually necessitating another state of emergency” over the virus, Hamada warned.
• Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga also announced a package of 2.6 billion USD for hospitals treating COVID-19 patients, according to Reuters. Hospitals in large cities such as Tokyo and Osaka have been under massive pressure in recent weeks due to a rapid rise in cases.
On Friday, Suga urged Japanese citizens to enjoy the holiday period without organising social gatherings. “The infections aren’t coming down and if we keep going like this, we won’t be able to avoid further spread of the virus,” Suga said at a Tokyo news conference.