UK Covid strain confirmed in Japan
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UK Covid strain confirmed in Japan

Hong Kong extends quarantine period to 21 days

Shoppers wearing face masks walk through the Tsukiji outer market in Tokyo on Thursday. (Reuters Photo)
Shoppers wearing face masks walk through the Tsukiji outer market in Tokyo on Thursday. (Reuters Photo)

Japan has confirmed its first cases of the new coronavirus variant spreading in Britain, the health ministry said on Friday.

Five people — four males and one female, all under age 70 — tested positive for the new strain and had travel histories to Britain, the ministry said. Four are asymptomatic.

Two of the five arrived at Haneda airport in Tokyo while the others landed at Kansai airport in Osaka Prefecture.

Japan on Thursday imposed a temporary ban on new arrivals of foreign nationals from Britain coming for purposes such as business or study, but existing foreign residents and Japanese nationals have still been allowed to enter.

Foreign residents of Japan, who already have to undergo Covid-19 testing as a condition of reentry from most countries, including Britain, are asked to download a tracing app and retain their location data after entering Japan.

Japanese nationals arriving from Britain from Sunday will be required to take virus tests within 72 hours before departure and submit the results upon arrival.

The move came as countries worldwide impose restrictions on travel from Britain following the spread of the strain, which is believed to have caused a spike in infections in London and southeast England.

British health officials have said the new strain could be up to 70% more transmissible but that there was no evidence of it being deadlier or more resistant to vaccines.

The United States on Thursday said passengers arriving by air from the UK must have a negative Covid test within 72 hours of departure to enter the country, while Hong Kong extended its mandatory quarantine for most visitors to three weeks.

The territory will require all visitors, except those from mainland China, Macau and Taiwan, to quarantine for 21 days in a designated facility, the government said. Arrivals from those three territories only need to spend seven days at home in Hong Kong. Macau this week said visitors must spend 21 days under medical observation.

In addition to Japan, Germany and Switzerland have joined a growing number of countries that have identified their first cases of the coronavirus variant that has emerged in the UK.

South Africa rejected claims that a mutated strain found in the country had contributed to a second wave of infections in the UK and criticised Britain’s decision to impose travel restrictions.

In China, meanwhile, Beijing authorities are advising residents not to leave the city during the holidays due to a recent resurgence of infections.

Subway capacity in Beijing will be capped at 90%, while indoor entertainment venues, such as movie theatres, museums and libraries, can be 75% full.

Japan is also asking people to stay home over New Year’s, and is considering changes to its virus law, such as fining bars and restaurants that don’t comply with instructions to close early.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said people are still going out and infections are rising, and urged people to stay home over the New Year’s holiday to celebrate “quietly” for the sake of the medical system.

Indonesia’s government is scaling up its health facilities and resources in anticipation of a spike in cases after long holidays, according to Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin. The country on Friday confirmed 258 new deaths, the most in a single day since the beginning of the outbreak.

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