The government will ban foreign nationals, including those who are Japan residents, from re-entering the country starting Friday if they have recently spent time in India, Nepal or Pakistan where a new variant of the coronavirus is rampant although some foreign nationals who left prior to the ban will be able to return.
Japanese nationals returning from those countries will still be allowed to re-enter Japan, the government announced Wednesday night.
The entry ban will apply to foreign nationals who have spent time in any of the three countries in the 14 days prior to their intended arrival. Permanent residents, long-term resident status holders, and spouses and children of Japanese nationals or permanent residents who left Japan before the travel restrictions take effect will be allowed in even after Friday.
“We will tighten and ease entry restrictions depending on the situation,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said during a news conference Thursday.
Kato said that in making the decision, the government had taken into consideration that there are still many unknown factors about the new variant, the rising numbers of cases in those countries and the fact that many new variant cases have been detected at airports.
“On May 10, the WHO (World Health Organization) classified the mutation as a ‘variant of global concern,’” which requires heightened tracking and analysis, Kato said. “Based on that decision we have also defined it as a variant of concern,” he said.
With the move, Japan joined other territories that have already placed travel restrictions on people arriving from India and neighbouring countries.
Taiwan on Monday barred arrivals from India. The UK, Germany and the United States have already introduced similar restrictions, but unlike Japan they have exempted citizens and permanent residents. Australia, meanwhile, has drawn criticism for barring even its own citizens who have traveled to those countries from returning home.
At present, only foreign residents with a valid residency status and Japanese nationals are allowed to enter Japan, while new entries from all countries are banned, with some exceptions for travellers seeking entry in emergencies. Starting Friday, exceptions will only be made for people returning from the three countries under special circumstances, including family and medical emergencies.
While the travel ban will apply only to foreign nationals, Japanese citizens may also face the risk of being denied entry if they fail to comply with the recently revised Quarantine Act.
Japan currently requires all arrivals into the country to provide negative COVID-19 results from tests taken within 72 hours of their departure and to be again tested upon entry. All people entering the country are also required to self-quarantine for 14 days at their homes, hotels or other facilities.
Japan’s blanket travel bans on new arrivals have remained in place throughout most of the pandemic.
Until last fall, the bans had also applied to foreign residents with a valid resident status in Japan making it the only Group of Seven country to have COVID-19 entry restrictions that discriminated between citizens and permanent and long-term foreign residents, and sparking outrage among the international community.
The latest decision to ban re-entry by residents comes after Japan added India on May 1 to a list of regions covered by stringent quarantine measures, after a so-called double mutation in a strain known as B.1.617 that emerged in the South Asian country was detected in Japan.
As of Monday, Japan had confirmed 70 cases of the more virulent B.1.617 variant in Japan, of which 66 were found in airport quarantine and four cases were confirmed among domestic infections, according to the National Institute of Infectious Diseases.
Under the stricter measures beginning May 1, travellers arriving from India and neighbouring Nepal and Pakistan have been obliged to stay at designated facilities for six days upon arrival as part of a 14-day self-quarantine. The government tightened measures for the self-isolation period for the three countries out of fear that the new variant could trigger another wave of infections similar to the one seen after it failed to shut out a British variant of the virus which was first detected in December.
Travellers from other countries covered by stricter quarantine rules are required to spend the first three days in designated facilities and are tested for COVID-19 on the third day. Only those who test negative can relocate to facilities of their choice or return home for the remainder of the 14-day period. Since Monday, travellers from India and the neighbouring countries have been tested on the third and sixth day after entering Japan.
Record numbers of COVID-19 infections and deaths in India have recently sparked calls for the government to lock down the world’s second-most populous country.