Namibian Diplomat Infected With Omicron Variant Becomes Japan's First Case

A diplomat from Namibia, a southwestern African country, who was infected with the omicron variant, traveled to Japan Sunday and became the country's first case of the new COVID variant, the Associated Press reported.

The Namibian diplomat tested positive for the new variant after he flew from his country and arrived at the Narita airport on Sunday. Japan gave confirmation Tuesday that he is the first case of the omicron variant.

After testing positive, the diplomat was immediately isolated and treated at a hospital. He had no symptoms initially but later developed a fever, Health Minister Shigeyuki Goto said. According to health ministry officials, the diplomat is fully vaccinated with the Moderna vaccine.

There were a total of 70 passengers who were in close contact with him, including two family members. So far they have all tested negative and are self-isolating, Goto said.

In light of the new variant, Japan announced Monday that beginning Tuesday all foreign visitors will be banned through the end of the year as a precaution for the new variant.

The World Health Organization said that based on the early evidence for the omicron variant, the global risk is "very high" and it could lead to a spike in cases with "severe consequences."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Tokyo Haneda International Airport, Omicron Covid Variant
A man walks past an arrivals board showing canceled flights at Tokyo's Haneda international airport on November 30, 2021, a day after Japan announced it would reinstate tough border measures, barring all new foreign arrivals over the Omicron Covid variant. Philip Fong / AFP/Getty Images

The Japanese government also requires Japanese nationals and foreigners with resident permits to quarantine 14 days following entry.

The 70 other passengers, including the patient's two family members on the same flight, who were identified as having close contact, are being monitored remotely by the Japanese health authorities. If they do not cooperate, their names will be released as a penalty, Goto said.

Ten crew members of the plane did not enter Japan and continued their flight to the next destination.

The 40 Tokyo residents identified as having close contact are being required to quarantine at facilities designated by the capital's metropolitan government instead of their homes to ensure anti-virus measures, Governor Yuriko Koike told reporters.

A genome analysis at the National Institute of Infectious Diseases confirmed Tuesday that the diplomat was infected with the new variant, which was first identified in South Africa.

Matsuno said the government will maintain strict border controls and will step up its capacity to conduct genome analyses of the new variant.

The new variant scare comes just as Japan was expanding its business and social activity following the sharp decline of new daily cases. So far, Japan has only re-tightened its border control. Japan reported just 76 new cases nationwide for an accumulated total of 1.72 million cases and 18,351 deaths.

Despite the lack of information about the new variant, Japan will start giving booster shots Wednesday as scheduled to those who have completed vaccination eight months ago or earlier, officials said.

On Tuesday, Japan's Self Defense Force closed down its mass inoculation center, which was launched in late May to help bolster a nationwide vaccination drive. About 77 percent of the Japanese have been fully vaccinated.

Omicron Coronavirus Variant, Quarantine, Japan
Passengers wait in a line to receive a quarantine test on their arrivals at Kansai International Airport in Osaka, western Japan, Tuesday, November 30, 2021. Japan confirmed on Tuesday its first case of the new omicron coronavirus variant, a visitor who recently arrived from Namibia, an official said. Yukie Nishizawa/Kyodo News/AP Photo