Japan has announced it will keep its border restrictions in place for most international citizens through February, with a reevaluation of the closure and phased reopening to begin when it is safe to do so.
Japan has said it will keep its borders closed to most foreign citizens through February as it accelerates coronavirus booster shots for the elderly and expands hospital capacity to cope with the surging Omicron variant, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida says.
Japan briefly eased border controls in November after COVID-19 cases rapidly declined, but quickly reinstated a ban on most foreign entrants after the highly transmissible new variant emerged.
Kishida said the stringent border controls have helped slow the variant’s spread and “bought time” to prepare for an imminent surge.
Late last year, Japan said it would be reopening to tourists as part of its phased approach in early 2022, raising the question, will the country begin its phased reopening in March or April?
The country had few COVID-19 cases until late December, but infections have since shot up to thousands a day.
Last week, Kishida placed three prefectures where infections apparently spread from US military bases — Okinawa, Yamaguchi and Hiroshima — under a pre-emergency status in which eateries were requested to shorten service hours.
But the rollout of booster vaccines, which started with medical workers in December, has been slow. As of Friday, only 0.6 per cent of Japan’s population has received a third shot, prompting experts to urge the government to speed up doses for elderly people.
On Monday, Tokyo reported 871 new COVID-19 cases, an eight-fold increase from a week earlier. Nationwide, Japan reported 6438 new cases for an accumulated total of about 1.77 million, including about 18,400 deaths.
Experts say a majority of the cases are now caused by Omicron.
Kishida noted that there still are many “unknowns” about Omicron, but it could be milder and less fatal than previous variants.
That could mean that more patients will stay at home. The government has been working to reinforce remote monitoring and medical care by community doctors, Kishida said.
“We will respond flexibly to new findings,” Kishida said. “What’s important is to protect people’s lives.”
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