Japan’s first Omicron case could help portray Prime Minister Kishida as crucial

On the first day of closed borders, a staff wearing protective suit checks the temperature of a passenger boarding an international flight at Narita International Airport to determine the spread of the new variant of the Omicron coronavirus amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19 ) in Narita to prevent. east of Tokyo, Japan, November 30, 2021. REUTERS / Kim Kyung-Hoon

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TOKYO, Nov. 30 (Reuters) – Japan confirmed its first case of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus on Tuesday, a day after closing its borders to all foreigners in one of the toughest precautionary measures in the world.

However, the case could show that Prime Minister Fumio Kishida was right in making the quick shutdown decision and help stave off the kind of criticism that led to predecessor Yoshihide Suga’s resignation in September over his handling of the virus.

Cabinet chief Hirokazu Matsuno said the discovery of the sufferer, a Namibian diplomat in his thirties who arrived at Narita Airport in the Japanese capital, shows that border controls have worked.

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“In order to avoid the worst case with Omicron, we keep an eye on the infection situation in every nation and react flexibly and quickly,” he added.

Kishida had promised to bolster Japan’s response to the pandemic when he campaigned to replace Suga, whose handling of the crisis left many unhappy.

Border restrictions were eased slightly just a few weeks ago, and Kishida said he would take responsibility for any criticism of his decision to close the country again, which analysts say should send a strong message.

“He says he is a leader who is strong in a crisis that he can take such a decisive step,” said Airo Hino, professor of political science at Waseda University.

“The governments before him didn’t restrict travel soon enough, and he takes that into account. It is a truism of politics that dealing with a crisis can make or break a government, ”he added, citing the growing support for US President George W. Bush after the 9/11 attacks.

The measures, which will apply for at least a month from coming into force on Tuesday, have been widely welcomed by the public and tolerated by business leaders.

“It’s better that way for older citizens,” said Tokiko Amemiya, an 80-year-old retiree, while a Twitter commenter simply said, “Thank you.”

Kengo Sakurada, chairman of the Japan Association of Corporate Executives, described the border measures as “unfortunate” but said they could not be helped.


Tourism has been a pillar of the Japanese economy in recent years, but despite a decline in the number of inbound visitors to near zero since the pandemic started last year, the economy is limping without it.

In the longer term, however, the export-dependent economy could suffer if the new variant worsens overseas demand and stunted delivery lines for Japanese companies, said Kazuma Kishikawa, an economist at the Daiwa Institute of Research.

“In addition, as has already been seen with the production cuts by automakers due to the spread of COVID-19 in Asian parts factories, it could disrupt supply chains,” he added.

Border controls should ease as the pandemic situation in Japan subsides, business lobbies said, adding that the curbs are not keeping up with global standards and keeping critical workers out.

New cases in Tokyo have recently fallen into the single digits.

“The Japanese government is under pressure, but we believe that the current security protocols should be more than sufficient to keep the people safe,” said Michael Mroczek, chairman of the European Business Council in Japan.

The Namibian diplomat confirmed that the Omicron variant had been vaccinated against the coronavirus, although the type of vaccine was not yet known, Health Minister Shigeyuki Goto told reporters. Everyone else on the man’s flight will be treated as close contacts and tested every two days, Goto said.

It remains to be seen whether Kishida’s risk will pay off, said Hino von Waseda.

Decisive elections for the upper house of parliament are due next summer.

“I think the chances are it will help him, although it may not show up right away in opinion polls,” said Hino.

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Additional reporting by Daniel Leussink and Kantaro Komiya; Writing Elaine Lies; Editing by Kim Coghill, Clarence Fernandez, and Ed Osmond

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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