Japan’s prime minister announced Monday that his country is taking the “exceptional” measure of shutting its borders to foreigners “until there is clearer information about the Omicron variant” of the coronavirus.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the closure is going into effect Tuesday and it’s unclear how long it will remain in effect, while Japanese residents returning home from certain nations will need to quarantine, according to Reuters.
“These are temporary, exceptional measures that we are taking for safety’s sake until there is clearer information about the omicron variant,” Kishida reportedly said.
OMICRON VARIANT POSES ‘VERY HIGH’ GLOBAL RISK, WHO SAYS
As of Monday, the omicron variant has not yet been found in Japan, Reuters reports.
Israel also has decided to bar entry to foreigners, and Morocco said it would suspend all incoming flights for two weeks starting Monday.
Despite the global worry, scientists are cautioning that it is still unclear whether omicron is more threatening than the other versions of the virus that has killed more than 5 million people.
And in some parts of the world, authorities were moving in the opposite direction.
In Malaysia, officials went ahead with the partial reopening of a bridge connecting it to the city-state of Singapore. And New Zealand announced it will press ahead with plans to reopen internally after a months-long shutdown, though it is also restricting travel from nine southern African nations.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that she didn’t anticipate any further restrictions and that bars, restaurants and gyms in Auckland can reopen, ending a coronavirus lockdown that began in August.
OMICRON VARIANT: HERE IS WHAT OFFICIALS KNOW
Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health in the United States, meanwhile, told the Associated Press that there is no data yet that suggests the new variant causes more serious illness than previous versions.
Collins echoed several experts in saying the news should make everyone redouble their efforts to use the tools the world already has to combat the effects of the coronavirus, including vaccinations, booster shots and measures such as mask-wearing.
The U.S. is banning travel from South Africa and seven other southern African countries starting Monday.
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“It’s going to give us a period of time to enhance our preparedness,” the United States’ top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said on ABC’s “This Week.”
Fauci said it will take approximately two more weeks to have more definitive information on the transmissibility, severity and other characteristics of omicron, according to the White House.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.