Kishida indicates will extend border measures over omicron variant

TOKYO (Jiji Press) — Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida indicated a plan Saturday to extend the country’s tightened border control measures in place amid fears over the spread of the new omicron variant of the novel coronavirus beyond the current expiration at the end of the year.

“We should closely assess the infection situation at least through the year-end and New Year holiday period, and then think about what to do after that,” Kishida told reporters.

The government believes that it is premature to lift the measures as omicron infection cases have recently been confirmed in Japan one after another, sources familiar with the situation said.

The country introduced the stricter border control measures for one month from Nov. 30, banning new entry into Japan by foreign nationals in principle and asking Japanese nationals returning home from countries where omicron infections have been confirmed to self-isolate at accommodation facilities for three to 10 days.

The tightened border control measures seem to be fraying around the edges, however.

A man who was found omicron positive after watching an Emperor’s Cup soccer match on Sunday was a close contact of a woman whose infection was confirmed while she was under self-isolation at home after returning from overseas.

On Friday, a Japanese worker at a U.S. military facility in Okinawa Prefecture, southernmost Japan, was confirmed to have the omicron variant although he has no recent history of overseas travel.

In the wake of these omicron cases, an expert said that “it’s a matter of time” before the omicron variant spreads across Japan.

Isolation facilities near airports in the country are in tight supply due to a rapid increase in the number of people who are asked to self-isolate, such as those regarded as close contacts.

The number of rooms secured by the government for quarantine stood at 13,000 as of Tuesday.

“It’s impossible to increase the number of isolation facilities any further,” a senior official at the Cabinet Secretariat said.

“There are many unknown aspects” of the omicron variant, Kishida said Saturday.

“We need to buy time for now,” until enough preparations are made to counter the omicron variant, including moving up the schedule for administering third COVID-19 vaccine shots and approving the use of oral drugs, an expert said.

With some government officials believing that the public supports the strict border measures, it appears difficult for the Kishida administration to relax the measures any time soon, pundits said.