Japan bans entry for newcomers and business travelers due to new strains of COVID-19

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Are you traveling to or from Japan? Rethink your plans.

Grappling with another growing wave of COVID-19 infections and fearing the transmission of new mutations of the novel coronavirus from abroad, Japan has once again tightened its border controls by temporarily barring entry to all new arrivals.

For Japanese nationals and foreign residents entering and re-entering the country, the government threatens to name and shame those who violate quarantine restrictions after they arrive. Foreign nationals can even lose their residency status if they do not comply with quarantine measures.

With the new directive, which went into effect Thursday, the government imposed a total ban on all new visa applicants with a small exception for business travelers who already have a landing clearance in place. Most new arrivals were already banned since late December or early January, but as part of the latest policy, Japan has extended the ban to cover people traveling for business purposes under reciprocity agreements as well as programs for athletes preparing for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics postponed.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga made the announcement at a press conference on Wednesday evening, explaining that border control measures would be tightened in response to growing concerns about new, more transmissible mutations in the virus that causes COVID-19.

On Thursday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said the increase in the number of infections involving new strains of the virus “could lead to the collapse of the already strained health system.”

“The number of infections is increasing across the country and we need to limit the spread as much as possible,” he said.

As frequent policy changes continue to wreak havoc on travel plans, this article aims to clarify entry procedures for those wishing to enter or re-enter Japan.

Visa eligibility

An entry ban remains in place for 152 countries and regions. Currently, only non-Japanese residents with valid resident status and Japanese nationals are allowed to re-enter the country without considering the reasons for their trip to Japan.

With the latest changes to its border control policy, Japan has temporarily barred entry to all newcomers, including those using short or long-term business travel programs based on travel agreements. reciprocity with 11 countries.

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The exclusion of business travelers from previous checks had been criticized by the public and lawmakers, who feared the influx would be contributing to the rise in COVID-19 cases across the country. country.

As of Wednesday, 130,164 people had entered the country using such programs since their introduction, in stages, since last June. In fact, although subject to strict screening and entry procedures, short-term business travelers were allowed to travel to work without a 14-day quarantine on the condition that they did not use transportation. in common.

Countries and regions with business travel agreements affected by the latest restrictions are Cambodia, China, South Korea, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.

The latest entry restrictions will remain in effect until February 7, when the state of emergency declared for 11 prefectures expires. However, it is likely that the bans will be extended beyond that date if the daily number of new infections does not decrease in these prefectures.

The travel ban also continues to apply to those who had already received confirmation of their eligibility to enter the country as newcomers by December. Such confirmation, often referred to in Japan as “landing clearance”, is usually issued in the form of a Certificate of Eligibility (CoE). People who received such confirmation have not been able to enter Japan since January 4 under previously announced restrictions. The only exception is those who have received confirmation that they meet the conditions for entry authorization under the business travel programs, which will be allowed until January 21.

An airline staff member works in the check-in area of ​​the international flights terminal at Haneda Airport on December 28 last year. | REUTERS

Stricter re-entry procedures

Starting Wednesday, all eligible travelers entering Japan are encouraged to submit proof of their negative COVID-19 test prior to departure, regardless of their country of origin.

The obligation has been in place for some since last year, but until this week it only applied to foreign nationals entering the country from areas covered by travel bans. With the recent change, Japanese nationals are also required to submit certification.

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Only negative results for molecular diagnostic tests performed via nasopharyngeal swab, saliva samples (using the real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction method known as RT-PCR or the method of isothermal loop-mediated amplification known as LAMP) or an antigen test using chemiluminescence The enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (CLEIA) method will be recognized as valid. These tests must be performed within 72 hours of departure.

Those who fail to comply with the requirement to undergo COVID-19 testing prior to departure, as well as those traveling from areas affected by new strains of the virus, will be allowed entry but will have to self-isolate for a while. three days. at a designated facility upon arrival.

People who test negative on the third day after arrival will be allowed to return home and will be asked to remain in isolation for an additional 11 days.

The government has imposed the requirement for pre-entry testing on Japanese returnees following reports of imported infections with the latest variants of SARS-CoV-2, including the B.1.1.7 lineage which is believed to be up to 70% more transmissible than other strains.

The variant, which was first detected in the UK, was later confirmed in Japanese nationals returning from overseas in December. Earlier in January, Japan’s health ministry also reported four cases of infection with a newly mutated variant of the virus, which has similarities to the British and South African strains, detected in people returning to Japan from the Brazil.

People wait at the international flights terminal at Haneda Airport on December 28 last year.  |  REUTERS
People wait at the international flights terminal at Haneda Airport on December 28 last year. | REUTERS

Penalties for breaking COVID-19 rules

Along with the revised policy, Japan has also imposed sanctions on people who violate its quarantine rules.

All people who return to the country under the current travel restrictions, including Japanese returnees, will be tested for COVID-19 upon arrival and must observe self-isolation rules for 14 days after arriving in Japan, i.e. at home or at designated facilities. During this period, the use of public transport is in principle prohibited with the exception of dedicated cars on the Keisei line running between Narita and downtown Tokyo.

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The government has warned it may release the names of those violating quarantine measures. Penalties for foreign nationals may be more stringent.

In addition to name disclosure, those who break the rules may have their residence permits revoked and, as a result, face deportation under Japan’s Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act, Coronavirus measures minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said on Wednesday. .

All travelers entering Japan will be required to submit a written promise to abide by the regulations within the 14-day period after entering the country.

Those coming from areas that have reported infections with new strains of the virus, such as the UK and South Africa, should self-isolate at a designated facility for the first three days. Arrangements will be made by airport quarantine stations.

People coming to Japan from these areas will be required to be tested for COVID-19 on the third day after entering the country, and those who test negative for the virus will be allowed to return home and remain in isolation for the rest of the period. the 14-day quarantine period.

While remaining isolated, returnees are forced to record information about their health status using a contact tracing app named COCOA, allowing them to access location data on their smartphones.

Asked about penalties for failing to follow quarantine procedures, government spokesman Kato said such consequences would be enforced as a breach of the undertaking, travelers are required to agree to detail all entry or return conditions.

Further details of the revised border control policy are available on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as on the website of the Ministry of Health.

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