Strengthen Japan’s border control measures against omicron variant

Another coronavirus variant has emerged. Vigilance must be heightened, so that this new variant will not spread in Japan.

The new variant, which is rapidly spreading in South Africa, has been named omicron and designated as a variant of concern by the World Health Organization.

Although it is still unknown how serious the symptoms will be if people are infected with the omicron variant, or how effective existing vaccines are against it, omicron may be more contagious than the dominant delta variant.

Japan has seen infections surge after new variants came into the country from overseas — the fourth wave of infections in spring was caused by the alpha variant and the fifth wave in summer was spurred by the delta variant. The government must collect the latest information and swiftly implement necessary measures.

The omicron variant has been detected not only in Africa but also in European countries, Canada and Australia. A person who entered Japan from Namibia was found to be infected with the coronavirus, and whether he has the omicron variant is being analyzed.

The government has decided to temporarily ban, in principle, the entry of nonresident foreigners from around the world. Japanese nationals returning from countries where the new variant has been found will be required to quarantine at accommodation facilities for a certain period of time.

It is only natural that the government has decided to reimpose restrictions on entries from overseas to stop the new variant from getting into the country, although it had just started easing such restrictions. A system to test for the omicron variant needs to be established urgently, and people returning to Japan from abroad must be thoroughly tested.

Monitoring within the country must also be strengthened. If the number of new infections can be maintained at the current low level, it will be easier to contain the variant by allocating resources to conducting tests and isolating people who are infected.

Health workers will start receiving a third booster shot of COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 1. To prevent another resurgence, these vaccinations should be implemented smoothly.

The variant may be new, but individuals will need to take the same preventive measures. For the time being, people must respond to the situation calmly, implementing such steps as wearing masks properly, washing their hands and ensuring good ventilation. It is important to continue taking measures against the coronavirus while maintaining economic activities as much as possible.

U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. and its partner company said they would study how effective their vaccine is against the omicron variant, and plan to develop a new vaccine if the existing one proves insufficient. Multiple companies are also developing oral drugs to treat COVID-19.

The government must closely follow the overseas development of such medication and make efforts to secure sufficient amounts of vaccine that is effective against the omicron variant, as well as COVID-19 oral drugs.

In South Africa and its surrounding nations, the number of people who have received two shots of a COVID-19 vaccine ranges from just several percent to 25% of the population. Japan should also cooperate with other countries and accelerate efforts to provide vaccines to such countries.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Nov. 30, 2021.