Japan will further shorten the quarantine period to seven days from the current 10 for people who have been in close contact with someone infected with the novel coronavirus, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Friday.

The new policy was announced as the highly transmissible Omicron variant of the virus continues to spread rapidly, making it increasingly difficult to maintain social and economic activities.

As for essential workers such as medical staff, police officers and child care and nursing care workers, the period will be reduced from the current six days to five days by using a combination of two COVID-19 tests, Kishida said.

He told reporters the decision was made in light of "expert opinions and new scientific evidence," noting also that Japan needs to strike a balance between curbing infections and maintaining functions in society.

The health ministry said the 10-day self-isolation required for people entering Japan will also be reduced to seven days starting Saturday.

On Jan. 14, the Japanese government reduced the quarantine period from 14 days to 10 days, but the business community among others were calling on the government to shorten it further by taking into account the new variant's characteristics.

Japan's National Institute of Infectious Diseases has said based on its analysis that the risk of developing symptoms from Omicron is less than 1 percent on the 10th day after coming into contact with the strain, compared with 5 percent on the seventh day.