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Japan retracts ban on new flight bookings after criticisms

A nearly deserted lobby for international arrivals at a Tokyo airport
The international arrivals lobby is nearly deserted at Tokyo’s international airport.
(Miyuki Saito / Kyodo News)

Japan says it has retracted a ban on new incoming international flight bookings to defend against the new variant of the coronavirus only a day after the policy was announced.

The transport ministry on Wednesday issued a request to international airlines to stop taking new reservations for flights coming into Japan until the end of December as an emergency precaution to defend against the new Omicron variant.

The ministry said Thursday it has retracted the request after receiving criticisms from inside and outside the country that the ban was too strict.

The halt on new reservations had aimed to reduce Japan’s daily international arrivals to 3,500 from an earlier level of 5,000 to tighten border controls as the new variant spread around the world, officials said.

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Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters Thursday that the request, “issued as an emergency precaution,” triggered confusion.

As expected, the Omicron coronavirus variant, first detected last month, has reached the U.S., with the first case found in California.

“The transport ministry has retracted the request for a uniformed stoppage on new bookings and notified airlines to take into consideration the need for Japanese nationals to return home,” Matsuno said.

Japan has reported two cases of the Omicron variant, which was first reported in South Africa last week.

Much remains unknown about the new variant, including whether it is more contagious, as some health authorities suspect, whether it makes people more seriously ill and whether it can thwart the vaccine.


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