Japan retracts new flight bookings ban after criticisms

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Virus Outbreak Japan (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)
Virus Outbreak Japan (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Japan says it has retracted a ban on new incoming international flight bookings to defend against the new variant of the coronavirus only a day after the policy was announced.

The transport ministry on Wednesday issued a request to international airlines to stop taking new reservations for flights coming into Japan until the end of December as an emergency precaution to defend against the new omicron variant.

The ministry said Thursday it has retracted the request after receiving criticisms from inside and outside the country that the ban was too strict.

The request had aimed to reduce Japan's daily international arrivals to 3,500 from an earlier level of 5,000 to tighten border controls as the new variant spread around the world, officials said.

“The request, issued as an emergency precaution, triggered confusions,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters Thursday.

“The transport ministry has retracted the request for a uniformed stoppage on new bookings and notified airlines to take into consideration the need for Japanese nationals to return home,” Matsuno said.

Japan has reported two cases of the omicron variant, which was first reported in South Africa last week.

Much remains unknown about the new variant, including whether it is more contagious, as some health authorities suspect, whether it makes people more seriously ill, and whether it can thwart the vaccine.

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