Japan entry controls to stay until more known about omicron

TOKYO (AP) — Japan will keep in place its recently reimposed strict border controls, which ban most foreign entrants, until more information is known about the omicron variant of the coronavirus, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Tuesday.

Kishida said he will also require 14-day quarantines at government-designated facilities for those who come in close contact with omicron patients, instead of the current stay-at-home policy.

He made the comments at a news conference marking the end the current parliamentary session, which approved a record 36 trillion yen ($317 billion) extra budget to fund COVID-19 measures and revive the pandemic-hit economy.

Kishida did not specify a timeline for the border controls, among the toughest in the world, which had been briefly eased but were then reinstated amid the global upsurge of the omicron variant.

Kishida said the increase in omicron infections in the United States is causing uncertainty for his desire to visit Washington for talks with President Joe Biden.

“I hope to meet with President Biden in person as soon as possible to discuss a range of issues and deepen our personal relationship,” Kishida said. He said he hopes the talks will help achieve a free and open Indo-Pacific to counter China’s growing military strength and influence in the region.

Japan has confirmed about 80 omicron cases, which authorities say have been limited to people arriving in the country who tested positive at airports and those who had close contact with them, but experts say community transmission is imminent.

Japan has had nearly 1.73 million COVID-19 cases and about 18,400 deaths.

On Okinawa, a cluster of about 200 cases at the U.S. Marine Corps Camp Hansen has raised fears of a spread of infections on the southern Japanese island. The U.S. military has not responded to an Okinawan request to run genetic analyses to determine if they are omicron cases.

Several Japanese employees at the camp have tested positive for omicron, and Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki told reporters Tuesday that he has asked the U.S. military to prohibit personnel from leaving Camp Hansen.

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