Dec. 28 (UPI) -- Japan clamped down on international visits by non-resident foreign nationals until the end of January in response to the spread of a new more virulent variant of the coronavirus that has sickened people in 20 countries.
"They say that no evidence is showing the vaccines that are already being administered overseas are not effective against this variant, and anti-infection steps for it are unchanged from those for the conventional virus," Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said Monday, urging residents to have a "calm" New Year celebration. "The virus recognizes no year-end or New Year holidays," Suga added.
New travel rules will require Japanese citizens and foreign residents traveling from countries where the variant has been found to submit negative virus test results from within 72 hours of travel and undergo another test upon arriving in Japan. The rules start Wednesday and last through the end of January.
Business travelers and students from mainland China, Taiwan and South Korea and some other Asian nations, are exempt from the new rules.
At least eight people in Japan have been infected with the new variant of the virus, including an airline pilot who visited London and a Tokyo woman hospitalized after returning from Britain, the Japan Times reported.
Yuichiro Hata, 53, a Japanese former transport minister and parliamentarian, died suddenly on Sunday of COVID-19 complications, his family said. The lawmaker was the first incumbent parliamentarian to die of the coronavirus.
Earlier in December, the Japanese government announced that travelers from Britain and South Africa were required to quarantine for three days. Suga also suspended the government-subsidized travel campaign "Go To Travel," which was canceled through Jan. 11.
In the United States, federal officials announced Friday that because of the new virus strain, air travelers from Britain would require a negative COVID test at least 72 hours before their flight.