The Omicron variant of COVID-19 made its spectacular entry in late November and continues to rock politics and medicine around the world.
First detected in the Netherlands and brought to the world’s attention by South Africa, it has so far been detected in more than 30 countries around the world. Infected patients can be found in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, North America, South America, and Asia, including Australia.
JAPAN Before tries to unbox what we know about the variant, especially regarding travel restrictions in Japan.
What do we know about the variant so far?
The World Health Organization (WHO) called the new Omicron strain a “variant of concern” on November 26.
On December 1, the President of the Commission of the European Union, Ursula Von Der Leyden, expressed her concern about the new variant, in what she called “a race against time. “
There is still not enough information to judge how dangerous the new variant is compared to previous strains, namely the Delta variant, which was much more contagious than previous COVID-19 strains.
WHO experts say more information on this front will be available in the the next days.
Pharmaceutical companies are also in the race to respond to this curved ball. RenÃ© Reinert of Pfizer, vice president of vaccines for international developed markets, says Bloomberg on December 2, he didn’t expect his vaccine’s effectiveness to decrease with the new variant.
Moderna President Stephen Hoge told Reuters that they expected a targeted vaccine booster on Omicron by March 2022. Other vaccines have not been approved for use in Japan.
How are countries responding?
New developments in the pandemic are once again disrupting travel plans. It comes just as the rules are starting to ease and travel is starting to bounce back.
The United States has announced restrictions on visitors from 10 countries almost immediately, on November 29. President Joe Biden announced new restrictions on December 2, applicable to all incoming passengers, including nationals. A big change in addition to the proof of vaccination is mandatory negative PCR test taken within 24 hours of boarding your flight to the United States
The European Union has closed the border to travelers from several southern African countries.
What about travel restrictions in Japan?
As of December 5, Japan had two confirmed cases of the COVID-19 strain Omicron, both diagnosed upon landing at Narita airport. One was an African diplomat. The second case was a man in his twenties who was flying from Peru.
Following a policy similar to that of the European Union, Japan closed the border to travelers – including foreigners with resident status – from 10 countries: Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia , South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe.
Quarantine restrictions are also back in place for those traveling from specific countries, regardless of their vaccination status, so it is recommended to check the patient regularly. Ministry of Foreign Affairs website for up-to-date information.
Have bookings really stopped in Japan for December?
On December 1, in an effort to quickly stop an influx of people, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT) established a new ceiling of 3,500 people allowed to enter the country per day.
The cap, along with the state of current airline bookings, prompted MLIT officials to ask airlines to suspend accepting new bookings for the month of December.
This caused an uproar nationally and fear among Japanese overseas that they would find themselves stranded in a foreign country with no possibility of return. Consulting airline websites, JAPAN Before first noted that reservations would not be accepted for any travel option in December.
A day later, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced the government’s withdrawal from this decision December 2. Trying to calm the chaos, he admitted to having “given instructions to the minister [Tetsuo] Saito to sufficiently respond to requests from Japanese nationals wishing to return to the country.
The following day, Japanese nationals were again able to book flights to Japan in December, subject to flight availability and still subject to the daily cap on the number of travelers allowed to enter daily. We recommend that you check regularly with your airline and on the MOFA website in case the entry requirements and restrictions change further.
Can students and interns enter Japan?
Japan announced on November 30 that the entry of foreign students, interns and businessmen was suspended, just three weeks after the easing of restrictions was put in place. In addition, negotiations on the new rules had been underway for months.
Japan virtually stopped accepting all foreign students, Japanese-speaking students, foreign workers, interns and tourists to the country at the end of March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rules banning the entry of tourists have not eased since then. The new decision signals a return to these stricter border measures for other categories.
What categories of visitors are affected?
Categories such as athletes, artists and those in the business and banking sectors have also been affected.
The Sankei Shimbun reported on December 1 that stricter measures had been put in place for foreigners previously allowed under the “special circumstances” exception, under which Japan had allowed entry to those coming for the Games Olympic Games and some entertainment, business conferences and sporting events.
The figure skating Grand Prix final which was scheduled to be held in Osaka from December 9 to 12 has been called off because almost all international athletes will not be able to attend. It was considered one of the last major winter sports competitions ahead of the Beijing Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in February 2022.
What is the reaction of those affected by the Japanese measures?
The sudden change in policy caused consternation and confusion among many, especially students and interns who had been suspended from entering Japan for almost two years in some cases.
A Japanese language school in Yokohama, the Interuniversity Center for Advanced Language Studies, emailed supporters of the school, commenting on the events:
“The moment of the [Japanese government] announcement could not have been more heartbreaking for our students. After months of preparation and negotiation with the Japanese government, they were due to leave for Japan today. Many tears when we learned from our contacts at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that this would not be possible.
What can we expect in the coming months?
For those about to travel to Japan, the sudden change in new standards is a strange deja vu of what happened between March and April 2020.
At the time, Japan had closed its borders within days. It was not the only country to do so. International commercial flights have all but come to a halt, and for a shorter period so have domestic flights.
For several months until the fall of 2020, foreign residents who left Japan were not allowed to re-enter. This has been resolved, and no one wants to go back to the months when it was so extraordinarily difficult for families with dual citizenship.
The current travel restrictions outlined above are specifically for December 2021. The coming weeks will be crucial in determining whether new cases of COVID-19 in Japan will remain low and what the Japanese government’s approach to travel restrictions will be. entry as the calendar progresses. a new Year.
Author: Arielle Busetto