Japan sharply tightens ban on foreign visitors

TOKYO, Japan -- Japan's government will temporarily ban entry of all nonresident foreign nationals as a precaution against a new and potentially more contagious coronavirus variant that has spread across Britain.

The entry ban will start Monday and last through Jan. 31 for the time being, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement late Saturday.

Japan banned entry of nonresident foreigners from Britain and South Africa last week, but is further stepping up border control after confirming the new variant in seven people over the last two days - five returnees from Britain who tested at airports and two others in Tokyo.

Japan is also suspending exemptions of a 14-day quarantine for Japanese nationals and resident foreigners on a short-track program that began in November. The entrants now must carry proof of a negative test 72 hours prior to departure for Japan and self-isolate for two weeks after arrival, the ministry said.

Japan's health ministry confirmed Saturday two cases of the new variant - a man in his 30s who returned to Japan from Britain on Dec. 16 and his relative, a woman in her 20s with no history of visiting that country. Both patients are hospitalized in Tokyo.

On Friday, the ministry said the new variant was detected in samples of five returnees from Britain between Dec. 18 and Dec. 21 who tested positive at airport inspection. All but one who complained of fatigue had no symptoms.

Japan had 217,312 cases as of Saturday, up more than 3,700 from the day before, and 3,213 deaths. Tokyo reported 949 cases, its new daily high, since the pandemic began, despite calls by experts and government officials for the people to spend "quiet" holiday season.

THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

- Germany, Hungary give first virus shots ahead of EU rollout.

- Belarus dissidents say authorities are deliberately allowing COVID-19 to flourish in the packed jail cells where they have detained thousands of opposition protesters

- Vaccine deliveries roll out across the European Union as the bloc's 27 nations get ready to kick off their first shots

- Around 1,000 British soldiers are spending Christmas weekend trying to clear a huge backlog of truck drivers stranded at the border in southeast England

- South Africa' s normally joyful Christmas celebrations are dampened by a spike in new cases and deaths driven by the country's COVID-19 variant

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