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Japan to shut border, Australia delays reopening over Omicron fears

TOKYO Japan said yesterday it would shut its borders to foreigners to prevent the spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, joining Israel in imposing some of the strictest border controls since the variant's discovery in southern Africa.

The bar on entry of foreigners would be from midnight yesterday, and Japanese returning from specified nations would have to quarantine in designated facilities, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters.

"These are temporary, exceptional measures that we are taking for safety's sake, until there is clearer information about the Omicron variant," Mr Kishida told reporters. "I'm prepared to bear all criticism from those saying the Kishida administration is being too cautious."

The Foreign Ministry later said the tighter measures included extending mandatory hotel quarantines to six days instead of three for travellers from the United Kingdom. For those from nations including Australia and Austria, the duration rises to three days from none.

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Meanwhile, Australia abruptly halted plans to reopen its borders to skilled workers and students, an eleventh-hour decision prompted by concerns over the Omicron variant.

After an emergency security meeting, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the much-heralded Dec 1 reopening would be delayed at least two weeks.

Australia's borders have been closed to most non-citizens for more than 20 months, causing labour shortages and pummelling the tourist industry.

Mr Morrison described the delay as "a necessary and temporary decision" based on medical advice. Australia has so far detected five cases of the Omicron variant. - REUTERS, AFP

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