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Japan To Bar Foreign Visitors Due to Omicron Threat

Japan said on Monday it would bar entry to foreigners from midnight on Tuesday to prevent the spread of the Omicron Covid variant. Earlier, Singapore and Malaysia reopened their land border

Japan Budget
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks at a press conference. Photo: Reuters


Japan said on Monday it would bar entry to foreigners to prevent the spread of the Omicron variant of coronavirus, joining Israel in the strictest border measures yet since the variant’s discovery.

“In order to avoid a worst-case scenario and as an emergency precautionary measure, Japan will first of all ban the entry of foreigners into the country from midnight on November 30,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters.

Japanese returnees from a number of specified nations would have to quarantine in designated facilities, he added.

The move marked a rapid escalation of restrictions since Friday when Japan said it would tighten border controls on people arriving from six African nations.

It comes just a few weeks after Kishida’s administration eased quarantine measures on foreign business travellers to help boost the economy.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) warned that deciding the severity level of Omicron, identified first in South Africa, could take “days to several weeks” in the absence of information that its symptoms differed from those of other variants.

Japan has not detected any Omicron cases so far. One traveller from Namibia was found to be positive for the coronavirus, and further tests were being conducted to find out if it was from the new variant, Health Minister Shigeyuki Goto said in a separate press conference.

Nations around the world have enacted various border curbs since the WHO dubbed Omicron a “variant of concern.” But until Kishida’s announcement, Israel had been the only country to ban all foreigners.


Singapore and Malaysia Open Border

The move by Tokyo diverges widely from other parts of Asia, where the reaction has been far more subdued.

Singapore and Malaysia reopened one of the world’s busiest land borders on Monday, allowing vaccinated travellers to cross after nearly two years of being shut down due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Travellers welcomed the chance to reunite with family and friends, but there were also concerns the border might be closed again due to the new coronavirus variant Omicron.

At the Queen Street bus terminal in Singapore, a few dozen people waiting to board the first buses to Malaysia expressed caution.

“The borders may close soon because of the new variant,” said Eugene Ho, a 31-year-old banker leaving Singapore for the first time in nearly two years. “I am actually very worried about getting stuck.”

Travellers must test negative for Covid-19 before departure, and Malaysia also requires travellers to get an on-arrival test, a move Singapore followed on Sunday over concerns about the Omicron variant.


Yaakob Meets Lee

Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob was welcomed by Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at one of the land border crossings on Monday, his first official visit as premier to Singapore.

As many as 300,000 Malaysians commuted daily to Singapore before the pandemic.

The sudden closing of the border in March 2020 left tens of thousands stranded on both sides, separated from families and fearing for their jobs.

New Arrangement

Under the new arrangement, up to 1,440 travellers from each side can cross the land border each day without quarantine, if they hold citizenship, permanent residency or long-term visas in the destination country, according to guidelines published by the Singapore government.

A vaccinated air travel lane between the two countries also started on Monday.

Singapore has vaccinated 85% of its entire population, while about 80% of Malaysia’s population has been inoculated.

Singapore, with an aging population of 5.5 million, relies heavily on Malaysians living in the southern state of Johor to staff businesses ranging from restaurants to semiconductor manufacturing.

Singapore reported 747 locally acquired Covid-19 cases on Sunday, the lowest tally since mid-September. Malaysia reported 4,239 cases on Sunday, the smallest number since early November.



Reuters with additional editing by Jim Pollard




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Jim Pollard

Jim Pollard is an Australian journalist based in Thailand since 1999. He worked for News Ltd papers in Sydney, Perth, London and Melbourne before travelling through SE Asia in the late 90s. He was a senior editor at The Nation for 17+ years and has a family in Bangkok.


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