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Japan will close its borders to all foreigners, including business travellers and foreign students, from Tuesday in response to the spread of the Omicron Covid variant, prime minister Fumio Kishida has said.
The announcement sees Japan become the second country after Israel to close its borders amid fears that Omicron may be more transmissible than previous variants of the coronavirus.
“We are taking measures with a strong sense of urgency,” Mr Kishida said, adding that his government was tightening border controls due to the “rapid spread” of Omicron around the world.
Mr Kishida said Japan will go ahead with providing booster jabs to its vulnerable population, three quarters of which is already fully vaccinated.
The new rules do not affect Japanese citizens and residents returning to the country. However, those coming back from a specified list of nations where the Omicron variant has been detected will have to quarantine in designated facilities.
Japan earlier tightened entry restrictions for South Africa and eight other countries, requiring them to undergo a 10-day quarantine period at government-designated facilities, after the Omicron variant was discovered.
The new rules come into effect less than a month after the country eased travel rules for foreigners for the first time in a year and reduced the quarantine period from 14 to 10 days for those vaccinated.
But fears of the new variant, which has an unusually high number of mutations compared to previous versions of the coronavirus, has forced many countries to tighten the rules again.
Earlier, Israel decided to shut its borders to foreign citizens for two weeks, starting from Monday. Other nations including the UK and US have placed restrictions on travel from nations in southern Africa, where Omicron was first identified on 9 November.
While the WHO says it is still trying to establish where the new variant is more dangerous or transmissible than others, cases have already been confirmed in 13 countries and territories including Hong Kong, the UK, Canada, Australia and the Netherlands.