TOKYO -- Japan will ban entry from all countries to prevent the spread of the more contagious U.K. strain of the coronavirus, the government announced Saturday.
The ban takes effect Monday and continues through the end of January. Japanese nationals and foreigners living in Japan will be permitted to return to the country. A 14-day quarantine request will apply to all without exception.
Japan currently bans entry from 152 nations, but since October, it has allowed in foreign students or business professionals planning long-term stays. Now the issuance of those visas will be suspended, but those who have already acquired visas can enter even after Monday.
New entry from the U.K. and South Africa -- two countries where the new variant is spreading -- has already been suspended.
To avoid disruptions to economic activity, bilateral business travel arrangements with 11 countries including China and South Korea will be maintained. Since many foreigners are entering Japan through this arrangement, the latest travel ban may have little impact on limiting foreign arrivals.
As of Friday, five people who traveled from Britain were confirmed to be infected with the new strain, according to the government.
Those arriving from countries where the new variant has been detected will be required to present proof of negative tests taken within 72 hours of departure. They also must take PCR tests upon arrival.
The government positions the latest move as preparation to ensure the Tokyo Olympics will be held without a glitch.
"At this point, we don't know how threatening the new strain is," a government official said. "We took stringent action for the sake of prevention."
In October, 35,000 foreigners newly entered Japan, and the number exceeded 66,000 in November.
Besides the U.K., the new strain has been detected in Italy, the Netherlands, Denmark, Australia and Germany. The variant is said to be 70% more contagious than the original strain but does not appear to make people sicker.
Prior to the announcement, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga discussed a response to the detection of the new strain with health ministry officials. Suga had signaled on Friday that he would issue new measures to contain the spread of the new strain.