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France, Japan latest to confirm UK variant of new COVID-19 strain

A flight information board is pictured at Paris' Charles de Gaulle international airport in Roissy, Monday Dec. 21, 2020. France is banning all travel from the U.K. for 48 hours in an attempt to make sure that a new strain of the coronavirus in Britain doesn't reach its shores. (AP Photo/Lewis Joly)

French and Japanese authorities have confirmed their first cases of the virus variant that prompted strict new lockdown measures in Britain and global travel restrictions.

A French man living in England arrived in France on Dec. 19 and tested positive for the new variant Friday, the French public health agency said in a statement. He had no symptoms and was isolating in his home in the central city of Tours.

Authorities were tracing the person’s contacts and laboratories were analyzing tests from several other people who may have the new variant, the statement said.

In Japan, five people arrived between Dec. 18 and Dec. 21, before the country stepped up border control on Friday for entrants from Britain. A man in his 60s developed fatigue, but the other four were without symptoms.

Health Minister Norihisa Tamura said the five were sent to quarantine straight from the airports.

After they tested positive for the virus, further analysis conducted at the National Institute of Infectious Diseases determined they had the British variant that is 70% more transmissible, the ministry said in a statement.

Some other European countries have also reported cases of the new variant, which British authorities said appears more contagious and was spreading fast. The British announcement Dec. 19 prompted countries around the world to suspend flights from the U.K., and France banned all passengers and cargo from Britain for two days, causing massive traffic problems around the British port of Dover.

France reopened the border but now requires anyone entering from Britain to have a test showing they do not have the new variant.

A second partial lockdown sharply curbed France’s infections, but they have been again on the rise over the past two weeks. France has among the world’s highest virus death tolls.

Russian authorities became the latest to order those arriving from the U.K. to quarantine for two weeks after previously suspending direct flights from the U.K.

The order from the Rospotrebnadzor sanitary safety agency posted Friday on the portal of official information obliges all those travelling from the U.K. to remain in isolation for 14 days after their arrival in Russia. The measure is effective starting Saturday.

The United States became the latest country to announce new travel restrictions.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says airline passengers from the United Kingdom will have to get negative COVID-19 tests within three days of their trip and provide the results to the airline. The agency says the order will be signed Friday and go into effect on Monday.

The CDC says because of travel restrictions in place since March, air travel to the U.S. from the U.K. has been cut by 90%.

Canada has already extended its U.K. travel ban by two weeks until Jan. 6 and added similar restrictions for travellers arriving from South Africa.

“All travelers who have been in the United Kingdom or South Africa within the period of 14 days before the day on which they seek entry into Canada will be subject to secondary screening and enhanced measures,” Health Canada said in a release on Wednesday, noting it had tested over 25,000 samples.