Photo/Illutration Prime Minister Fumio Kishida makes the traditional visit to Ise Jingu shrine in Mie Prefecture on Jan. 4. (Kotaro Ebara)

ISE, Mie Prefecture—Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the focus of measures to battle the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus will shift from strengthening border controls to halting community spreads of the strain.

“We must prepare for the possibility of a worst-case scenario leading to a sudden increase in community infections of the Omicron variant,” Kishida said at his first news conference of the year on Jan. 4 after visiting Ise Jingu shrine.

The government had imposed stricter entry measures for those arriving from abroad, but it decided to pay more attention to the recent increase in new cases and the confirmation of more Omicron infections in various parts of the nation.

A decision on whether to continue with the entry ban for all foreign passengers from abroad will be made next week after the government analyzes infection trends over the year-end and New Year period, Kishida said.

He said preparations had started for certain domestic measures, such as strengthening the framework to provide preventive testing and early treatment.

The specific measures also include pushing ahead with COVID-19 booster shots among health care professionals and senior citizens. The third vaccination will cover about 31 million people.

In addition, free testing will be expanded to areas that have newly confirmed cases of Omicron infections.

Kishida also indicated that the government will revise the current protocol of hospitalizing everyone found with the Omicron variant and asking those who came in close contact with such individuals to self-isolate at hotels and other facilities.

Depending on the severity of their symptoms, some individuals may be allowed to self-isolate at home, on condition that they accept the use of a monitoring system.

Kishida also said efforts would be made to begin providing an oral medication for COVID-19 developed by Pfizer to medical institutions in February.

He said nothing about when the Go To Travel tourism promotion campaign would resume.

Kishida at one time had considered visiting the United States and Australia for direct talks with U.S. President Joe Biden and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, but he told reporters that he would not be making any overseas trips before the start of the ordinary Diet session this month and instead will focus on dealing with the Omicron variant.