Japan to close borders to tourists after Covid-19 variant is detected

The country will only allow entry to Japanese citizens and foreign residents for one month

Japan will temporarily ban non-resident foreign nationals from entering the country as it tightens its borders following the detection of a new, highly infectious variant of the coronavirus.

The ban will take effect from Monday, December 28, and will run through to the end of January, the government said in a statement on Saturday.

Japanese citizens and foreign residents will be allowed to enter, but must show proof of a negative coronavirus test taken within 72 hours of departure and must quarantine for two weeks after arrival, the statement said.

Japan on Friday reported its first cases of a fast-spreading variant in passengers arriving from Britain. The new variant has also been detected in a man who visited the UK and a family member – the first cases of infected people found outside airport checks – Nippon TV reported on Saturday.

The new strain adds to worries about a surge in cases as Tokyo reported another record rise on Saturday.

Infections of the virus that causes Covid-19 hit a record 949 in the capital just as Japan heads into New Year celebrations, which normally see people stream from the capital into the provinces.

Tokyo transport hubs were subdued, local media said, a day after Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, under pressure as cases continue to climb, urged the nation to stay home and avoid social mixing.

With New Year celebrations centred around family gatherings and mass visits to temples and shrines, experts have warned public restraint will be essential to prevent infection rates from rising further amid concerns of pandemic fatigue.

Japan's ban comes after a number of countries, including Spain and Sweden, reported a cluster of new cases of a mutant coronavirus variant that was identified in England last week.

The new strain of the virus has prompted more than 50 countries including Spain to impose travel restrictions on the UK.