What we know so far

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[3.11 Earthquake: Rebuilding]    10 years later: Tohoku recovery and resilience with the world

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The Omicron variant of COVID-19 made its spectacular entrance at the end of 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 are in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, North America, South America and Asia, including Australia.

JAPAN Striker tries to unpack 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) labeled the new Omicron strain a “variant of concern” on November 26.

On December 1, European Union Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyden expressed 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 strains of COVID-19.

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 curve ball. Pfizer’s René Reinert, Vice President of Vaccines for International Developed Markets, told Bloomberg on December 2 that he did not expect his vaccine’s effectiveness to decline with the new variant.

Moderna President Stephen Hoge told Reuters that they expected a vaccine recall targeted at Omicron by March 2022. Other vaccines have not been approved for use in Japan.

How are countries reacting?

New developments in the pandemic are once again upending travel plans. This comes just as the rules were starting to loosen up and travel was starting to rebound.

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 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.

Myanmar Student Streetudying to qualify for a foreign worker visa

What about travel restrictions in Japan?

As of December 5, Japan had two confirmed cases of the COVID-19 Omicron strain, both diagnosed upon landing at Narita Airport. One was an African diplomat. The second case was a man in his twenties from Peru.

Following a policy similar to that of the European Union, Japan has closed the border to travelers – including foreigners with resident status – from 10 countries: Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Africa South, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

Quarantine restrictions are also in place for people traveling from specific countries, regardless of their vaccination status, so it is recommended to regularly check the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website for updated information.

Did reservations really stop in Japan in December?

On December 1, in a bid to quickly halt an influx of people, the Ministry of Lands, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT) set a new cap of 3,500 people allowed to enter the country per day.

The cap, along with the status of current airline bookings, prompted MLIT officials to ask airlines to suspend acceptance of new bookings for the month of December.

This caused a domestic outcry and fear among Japanese overseas of being stranded in a foreign country with no possibility of return. Consultation of airline websites, JAPAN Striker initially found that reservations would result in no travel options in the month of 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 having “charged the minister [Tetsuo] Saito to respond sufficiently to requests from Japanese nationals wishing to return to the country.

The following day, Japanese nationals were again able to book return flights to Japan in December, depending on whether flights were available 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 entry requirements and restrictions change further.

Few international travelers at Haneda International Airport at the height of the pandemic.

Can students and interns enter Japan?

Japan announced on November 30 that the entry of foreign students, interns and business people was suspended – just three weeks after measures to ease restrictions were put in place. Moreover, negotiations on the new rules had been ongoing for months.

Japan virtually stopped accepting all foreign students, Japanese language students, foreign workers, interns, and tourists to the country at the end of March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rules preventing tourists from entering have not eased since then. The new ruling signals a return to these stricter border measures for other categories.

Which categories of visitors are concerned?

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 authorized under the “special circumstances” exception, under which Japan had allowed entry to those coming for the Olympics and certain entertainment, business conferences and sporting events.

The Figure Skating Grand Prix Final which was to be held in Osaka from December 9-12 has been canceled as almost all international athletes will not be able to attend. It was considered one of the last major winter sports competitions before the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Beijing in February 2022.

Other sports competitions have also been affected. the Boxing match Gennadiy Golovkin-Ryota Murata scheduled for Saitama at the end of December has been postponed, as has the FIFA Club World Cup.

What is the reaction of those affected by the Japanese measures?

The sudden change in policy caused consternation and confusion among many people, 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, sent an email to school supporters, commenting on the events:

“The moment of [Japanese government] The 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.

Narita Airport – There are hopes of returning to relaxed regulations for entry and re-entry in early 2021 as the characteristics of omicron become better known, but there is no promise.

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 closed its borders within days. It was not the only country to do so. International commercial flights came to a virtual standstill and, for a shorter period, domestic flights did the same.

For several months until the fall months of 2020, foreign residents who left Japan were not allowed to return. 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 commitments.

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 COVID-19 will be. entry restrictions as the calendar advances into a new year.

Author: Arielle Busetto

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