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Japan’s government will temporarily ban entry of all non-resident foreign nationals as a precaution against a new and potentially more contagious coronavirus variant that has spread across Britain.

The entry ban will start on Monday and last until January 31 for the time being, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement late on Saturday.

Japan banned entry of non-resident foreigners from Britain and South Africa last week, but is further stepping up border control after confirming the new variant in seven people over the past two days – five returnees from Britain who tested at airports and two others in Tokyo.

Japan is also suspending exemptions of a 14-day quarantine for Japanese nationals and resident foreigners on a short-track program that began in November. The entrants now must carry proof of a negative test 72 hours prior to departure for Japan and self-isolate for two weeks after arrival, the ministry said.

Japan’s health ministry confirmed on Saturday two cases of the new variant – a man in his 30s who returned to Japan from Britain on December 16 and his relative, a woman in her 20s with no history of visiting that country. Both patients are hospitalised in Tokyo.

On Friday, the ministry said the new variant was detected in samples of five returnees from Britain between December 18 and 21 who tested positive at airport inspection. All but one who complained of fatigue had no symptoms.

Japan had 217,312 cases as of Saturday and 3,213 deaths.