TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan said it will ban the entry of non-Japanese people from Britain from Thursday after the emergence of a highly infectious new coronavirus variant, as daily infections hit a record high.
Countries across the globe shut their borders to Britain on Monday due to fears about the new strain.
"The government will take border control steps flexibly to prevent the spread of the coronavirus within the nation," Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told a news conference as he announced the entry ban.
The government will ask people including long-term foreign residents to self-quarantine for 14 days upon return from Britain.
From next week, Japanese coming from Britain would be asked to submit a certificate to confirm they had tested negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours of their departure.
The infectious coronavirus variant spreading in Britain has not so far been detected in Japan, said Takaji Wakita, head of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases.
The government decision comes when Japan is awash with a third wave of coronavirus infection.
Daily cases and fatalities both exceeded previous records on Wednesday to reach 3,271 and 56, respectively, according to public broadcaster NHK.
"Frontline medical workers, who have been working desperately, are exhausted," said Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who coordinates government measures against the pandemic.
"I am getting reports that it is getting difficult to juggle responses to the coronavirus and offering regular medical care."
Shigeru Omi, chair of a government panel on coronavirus responses, said restaurants' opening hours need to be shortened further in Tokyo to curb the spread of the infection.
"It is necessary to thoroughly push down the risk of getting infected through eating and drinking together by such measures as requesting restaurants to cut their opening hours further," Omi said.
"Infection is now seeping out from Tokyo and surrounding regions. It is hard to curb infection in rural Japan unless infection in big cities is brought under control."
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG) is already asking restaurants to close at 10:00 p.m.
On Wednesday, new cases totalled 748 in Tokyo, second only to 821 reported last Thursday.
In another step to slow coronavirus infection, the central government on Wednesday requested the TMG that the number of spectators at a big sport or music event at a venue with capacity exceeding 10,000 people be limited to 5,000 till Jan. 11.
(Reporting by Kaori Kaneko, Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Stephen Coates, Shri Navaratnam and Chizu Nomiyama)