UPDATE 1-Ex-minister dies from COVID as Japan closes off to foreigners

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(Recast, adds death of the legislator, comment from the air traveler)

By Irene Wang

TOKYO, Dec.28 (Reuters) – A 53-year-old former Japanese minister has died of COVID-19, his party said on Monday, becoming the first incumbent lawmaker to succumb to the disease in a country struggling to close its doors abroad. travelers.

Yuichiro Hata, who was transport minister in 2012 and is the son of former prime minister Tsutomu Hatawho, died on Sunday, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan said.

Japan began barring entry to non-resident foreign nationals on Monday following the detection of a new variant of the highly infectious coronavirus linked to a rapid rise in infections in Britain. Minister Yoshihide Suga called for calm ahead of the New Year’s holidays, when hospitals tend to be understaffed, and urged ministers to remain vigilant.

“They say there is no evidence to show that vaccines that are already given overseas are not effective against this variant, and the anti-infective steps for it are unchanged from those for the conventional virus,” Suga said. .

“The virus does not recognize end-of-year or New Year holidays. I ask each minister to raise the level of his sense of urgency and to carry out countermeasures thoroughly,” he said said at a meeting of the government task force on coronavirus responses.

Japan is facing a third wave of infections, with daily cases reaching a record 3,881 on Saturday, according to state broadcaster NHK.

A Japanese business traveler at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport, where people were sparse, said the government should do more.

“Even though Japan is doing things to counter the variant, there are still case reports in Japan,” said Seiji Oohira, 56, arriving from India, where he works for a construction company.

“So I think it’s better to tighten the restrictions a bit more.”

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