Japan PM cancels plan to visit US, Australia due to COVID-19

In this file photo taken on Nov 10, 2021, Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks during a press conference at the prime minister's office in Tokyo. (STANISLAV KOGIKU / POOL / AFP)

TOKYO – Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Tuesday that he will abandon provisional plans to visit the United States and Australia for summit talks prior to the start of a regular Diet session in mid-January to focus on tackling a resurgence of COVID-19 cases here.

The Japanese prime minister said at his first news conference of the year that he will not travel overseas before the regular Diet session, but will stay in Japan to oversee the government's challenges, including those related to tackling a sharp spike in COVID-19 cases.

"I will make this year a year where we boldly take on any challenge and open up a new era. On the other hand, I will keep in mind the need for humility and handle situations delicately," Kishida said.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida he will stay in Japan to oversee the government's challenges, including those related to tackling a sharp spike in COVID-19 cases

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Kishida said that in the year ahead he had been hoping to enhance diplomatic talks with US President Joe Biden and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Owing to the rise in COVID-19 cases here, particularly the local transmission of the Omicron variant of the virus, Kishida said that a decision as to whether to apply more stringent border controls on entry to Japan would be decided next week.

He went on to say that there was a need for the government to provide free polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests to more comprehensively detect positive COVID-19 cases.

He also referenced the importance of the ongoing rollout of booster shots for senior citizens and a newly-approved oral COVID-19 drug.

On Dec 24, the Japanese government green-lit the use of a pill developed by US pharmaceutical firm Merck called Molnupiravir.

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The pill can purportedly prevent the COVID-19 virus from multiplying in the body and is effective against the Omicron variant.

Official figures showed Monday that 782 new COVID-19 cases were reported nationwide, with Tokyo's tally on the same day topping the 100-mark for the first time in about three months.