TOKYO: Japan's prime minister said Wednesday the country will expand quarantine measures and a ban on entry from parts of countries including Italy and Spain affected by the coronavirus outbreak.
The announcement by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe adds parts of Italy, Spain and Switzerland and all of Iceland to existing rules banning the entry of foreign travellers coming from hard-hit parts of China, South Korea and elsewhere.
The new measures also expand a list of countries subject to quarantine on arrival, although the 14-day isolation is a request, with no specific enforcement features.
"We will add certain regions of Italy, Spain and Switzerland, as well as Iceland, to the list of entry bans," Abe said at a cabinet-level meeting on the virus.
"Given the situation of the spread of infection, we decided we would need to further enhance quarantine for 38 countries, including European countries under the Schengen agreement, Iran and Egypt."
Foreign and Japanese travellers coming from the affected countries will "be urged to stay at places designated by the quarantine officer for 14 days and to refrain from using public transportation."
The entry ban takes effect immediately, with the quarantine measures coming in from March 21.
The move comes after millions from France to Spain to Germany were confined to their homes as shops and restaurants closed and borders were sealed.
COVID-19 has infected more than 71,000 people and killed over 3,330 across Europe, the majority in hard-hit Italy, Spain and France.
The World Health Organization called for the "boldest actions" against the pandemic on the continent, the outbreak's new epicentre.
Japan has so far recorded at least 873 infections and 29 deaths from the virus, and the government has called for the scaling back or cancellation of major events, as well as school closures.
Everything from football matches and music concerts have been affected, while the spring sumo tournament is being held behind closed doors.
The Tokyo government has also urged residents to refrain from joining parties at parks during the famed cherry blossom season.
The rapid spread of virus infections cast doubt about whether the Tokyo Olympics can open as scheduled on July 24, with events already being cancelled or altered.
A Tokyo Olympics gymnastics qualifier next month was cancelled Wednesday and Games organisers decided to scale back parts of flame's journey across Japan, beginning with its arrival in the country on Friday.
A recent poll by Kyodo News showed 70 percent of respondents in Japan said they did not think the Games could be held as scheduled.
But the International Olympic Committee said Tuesday there was no change to the programme so far and it was too early for any decision.