Japan confirms first case of new coronavirus variant

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Japan has confirmed its first case of the new omicron coronavirus variant, a visitor who recently arrived from Namibia

TOKYO — Japan confirmed on Tuesday its first case of the new omicron coronavirus variant, a visitor who recently arrived from Namibia, an official said.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said the patient, a man in his 30s, tested positive upon arrival at Narita airport on Sunday and was isolated and is being treated at a hospital. Matsuno did not identify his nationality, citing privacy reasons.

A genome analysis at the National Institute of Infectious Diseases confirmed Tuesday that he was infected with the new variant, which was first identified in South Africa.

Matsuno said the government will maintain strict border controls and will step up its capacity to conduct genome analyses of the new variant.

Japan announced on Monday that it will ban all foreign visitors beginning Tuesday as an emergency precaution against the variant, tentatively through the end of the year. The government is also requiring Japanese nationals and foreigners with resident permits to quarantine 14 days following entry.

The World Health Organization warned Monday that the global risk from the omicron variant is “very high” based on the early evidence, saying it could lead to surges with “severe consequences.”

The new variant scare comes just as Japan was expanding its business and social activity following the sharp decline of new daily cases. So far, Japan has only re-tightened its border control. Japan reported just 76 new cases nationwide for an accumulated total of 1.72 million cases and 18,351 deaths.

On Tuesday, Japan’s Self Defense Force closed down its mass inoculation center, which was launched in late May to help bolster a nationwide vaccination drive. About 77% of the Japanese have been fully vaccinated.

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Associated Press journalist Chisato Tanaka contributed to this report.

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