Japan confirms 8 more cases of new coronavirus variant

Health

A miko, or shrine maiden, wearing a protective mask to help curb the spread of the coronavirus, walks though the Kanda Myojin shrine Friday, Dec. 3, 2021, in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

TOKYO (AP) — Health officials in Japan have confirmed eight more cases of the new omicron variant of the coronavirus, bringing the country’s total to 12, the government said Friday.

The eight tested positive for the virus when they arrived at Japanese airports from late November to earlier this month, the health ministry said in a statement.

Two of them, a woman in her 30s and a boy, arrived from Namibia on Nov. 28 on the same flight as a Namibian diplomat who was Japan’s first confirmed case of the omicron variant, Chief Cabinet Secretary Seiji Kihara said.

Japan eased border controls last month as it gradually expanded social and economic activities, but has since restored a ban on foreign entrants and limited daily arrivals to 3,500 people. The transport ministry briefly asked international airlines to stop accepting new bookings on flights to Japan, but withdrew the measure after facing criticism that it was too strict.

The six others confirmed Friday arrived from the United States, Mozambique and Democratic Republic of the Congo earlier this week and have been isolated, the health ministry said.

Japan has stepped up quarantine requirements in response to the new variant, and the government has secured 10,000 hotel rooms.

Experts say it’s not clear whether the omicron variant is more contagious or dangerous than previous strains of the virus, but urge people to continue with mask wearing and other anti-virus measures.

Japan’s COVID-19 infections have slowed since September. It reported 165 new cases on Thursday for an accumulated total of nearly 1.72 million, including about 18,400 deaths. More than 77% of Japanese have been fully vaccinated, and booster shots began this month, starting with medical workers.

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