TOKYO -- Japan will expand entry bans to cover foreign travelers from 73 countries and regions on Friday, including the U.S., U.K. and all of China, in an escalation of its fight against the new coronavirus.
To help combat the spread of the virus within Japan, Abe announced plans to distribute reusable face masks to all households through the postal service.
The moves come as Japan sees its biggest daily increases in new COVID-19 cases to date, prompting Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government to weigh bolder steps such as declaring a state of emergency.
"With infections appearing to grow at an explosive pace, mainly in the U.S. and Europe, we are going to take even stronger preventive measures at the front lines," Abe said Wednesday at a meeting of his coronavirus task force.
The number of countries under the travel ban will triple from the current 24. In addition to Western nations and China, all of South Korea will be covered for the first time.
Countries newly added to the entry ban include Poland, Romania and 21 other European nations, along with 12 Asian nations including Thailand and Vietnam. Canada, Brazil, Israel and Egypt also join the list.
In addition, anyone returning to the country from abroad, including Japanese nationals, will be required to self-quarantine for two weeks. These travelers will be asked to refrain from using public transport. Returning Japanese nationals are asked to test for the new coronavirus.
Nationwide, 257 new cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, had been confirmed as of 10 p.m. Wednesday, bringing the total to 2,412. Tokyo had the most new cases -- 66 -- followed by Osaka and Fukuoka prefectures.
The prime minister said his government is poised to secure 100 million masks by next month. Plans calls for distributing two masks per residence.
Abe called this step "an extremely effective response to the surge in demand for masks."