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Japan's 1st Omicron variant case rekindles anxiety among businesses

People walk on a street in Tokyo, on Nov. 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The confirmation of the first case of the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus in Japan on Tuesday has rekindled anxiety among businesses over an economic downturn, as the threat of restrictions looms close once again.

    Koichiro Sakaue, 51, a director of agricultural production company Sakaue in Kagoshima Prefecture, said his farm has already been suffering a labor shortage due to existing border restrictions.

    "If they become even stricter, technical trainees from Vietnam won't be able to enter Japan again," he said.

    Concerns over the variant have prompted a number of countries to tighten travel restrictions, with Japan closing its borders to new arrivals of foreigners from Tuesday and requiring citizens and foreigners with resident status returning from high-risk areas to spend up to 10 days of their 14-day isolation period in a government-designated facility.

    The new rules have also prompted major companies to cancel overseas business trips, with SoftBank Corp. suspending traveling abroad from Dec. 1.

    Masayoshi Matsumoto, chairman of the Kansai Economic Federation, had planned to attend Expo 2020 Dubai's "Japan Day" on Dec. 11 to promote the 2025 World Expo in Osaka but has decided not to make the trip.

    Dining establishments are also wary of COVID-19 restrictions being reimposed on social activities.

    An official of Gourmet Kineya Restaurant Co., which operates udon and soba noodle eateries nationwide, said sales have been returning to pre-coronavirus levels since COVID-19 restrictions were fully lifted at the end of September.

    "But if restrictions are reimposed on economic activities, things will get hard," the official said.

    Meanwhile, Fukuoka-based ramen noodle chain Ichiran, which had previously cooperated with the government by suspending serving alcoholic beverages, said it would consider putting measures in place again if requested.

    Yuichi Kodama, chief economist at Meiji Yasuda Research Institute, said that while businesses had been expecting people to eat out and travel more to make up for lost time, the arrival of the Omicron variant "could lead to a return to self-restraint."

    "If consumer spending remains sluggish, a slowdown in economic recovery will be inevitable," he said.

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