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Japan eases blanket ban on new incoming flights following Omicron fears

Japan has softened its suspension of all new incoming flight bookings to make it easier for citizens to return, the government said Thursday, a day after it announced the move prompted by worries about the Omicron coronavirus variant.

The transport ministry abruptly said Wednesday it was asking airlines to stop taking all new incoming flight reservations for a month, in a surprise move affecting citizens and foreign residents.

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But on Thursday, government spokesman Hirokazu Matsuno said it would be amended.

“This request caused confusion among those affected and so the prime minister instructed the transport ministry to examine the issue and consider the needs of Japanese citizens hoping to return home,” he told reporters.

As a result, the ministry “asked airlines to cancel the blanket suspension of new reservations for international flights to accommodate Japanese hoping to return home”, he added.

Japan has had tight border restrictions throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, barring almost all foreign arrivals.

It had begun to ease those rules slightly last month to allow some students and business travelers entry, but reversed that decision after the emergence of the Omicron variant.

It has also barred all non-citizens from entering the country if they are coming from 10 southern African countries.

All arrivals in Japan must quarantine for 14 days at home, with people coming from dozens of locations required to spend between three and 10 days of that two-week period in designated facilities.

After a summer surge in cases, Japan is registering only double-digit infections nationwide most days, and has logged around 18,360 deaths during the pandemic.

Around 77 percent of the country’s population is now fully vaccinated, and booster shots began rolling out on Wednesday for people who received their second dose at least eight months ago.

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