TOKYO (REUTERS) - Japan will maintain the tight entry restrictions it put in place to prevent the spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus until the end of February, the prime minister said on Tuesday (Jan 11), though some exceptions for humanitarian issues may be considered.
"Thanks to the toughest border rules in the G-7 nations, we’ve been able to keep the spread of Omicron to a minimal level, giving us time to prepare to deal with domestic infection," Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters.
"We’ll maintain the current framework of measures until the end of February for the time being, while taking necessary measures from the perspective of humanitarian and national interests."
The rules mandate up to six days in strict hotel quarantine for most of those who are allowed in – mostly Japanese and resident foreigners – followed by home quarantine.
The measures have sparked protests and a petition drive calling for change, especially to reduce family separations, and media reported on Tuesday the government was considering easing some of rules in exceptional cases.
Mr Kishida added that while much remains unknown about Omicron, it appears that the risk of serious cases was lower.
Children under the age of 12 would be offered vaccinations, he said.
Though opinion polls show that most Japanese support the border controls, e-commerce firm Rakuten’s founder and chief executive Hiroshi Mikitani called for them to be eased, saying the economy would suffer.
"In particular, banning the entrance of new foreigners and the hotel quarantine system needs to be reviewed," Mr Mikitani, long a critic of Japan’s handling of the pandemic, said on Twitter.
"Corona is everywhere in the world and borders must be open, the restrictions clearly aren’t working. What needs to be done is prioritising vaccinations and the use of oral medications," he said, terming the entrance freeze "unbelievable and stupid".
A surge of new coronavirus cases in many parts of the nation to levels not seen since September prompted the government to reintroduce emergency restrictions in three parts of the country that host US military bases over the weekend.
The US military has moved its personnel in and out under a separate testing and quarantine regime.
The United States over the weekend agreed to impose stricter Covid-19 measures at its military bases in Japan, amid concerns that outbreaks at bases have fuelled infection in local communities.