Japan on Tuesday warned citizens to avoid all travel to 49 more countries and regions including the United States, China, South Korea and Taiwan amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The Foreign Ministry raised its travel advisory for these areas to Level 3 — the second-highest level — bringing the total number of countries and territories at that classification to 73.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government is expected to impose an entry ban on foreign travelers who have recently been to the listed countries, which now cover more than a third of the world including most of Europe and Southeast Asia.
Japan is rushing to stem a rise in infections brought in by returnees and foreign visitors, with imported cases making up about 1 in 4 of the total in recent days.
The number of cases, excluding about 700 from the virus-hit Diamond Princess cruise ship, topped 2,000 in the country as of Tuesday afternoon, and local governors and medical experts have increasingly called for a state of emergency be declared to reduce the spread of infections and avoid overcrowding of hospitals.
In addition to the risk of infection, Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi cited border closures and stay-in-place orders enacted abroad as reasons for raising the travel advisory.
“Global infections have been increasing at a faster pace … and we are deeply concerned for the safety of our citizens,” he told a press conference.
Among the countries that were raised to level 3 on Tuesday, 21 are in Europe, nine are in the Middle East and Africa, seven are in Southeast Asia and six are in South America.
More than 780,000 have tested positive for the novel coronavirus worldwide, with the death toll topping 37,000, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
The global coronavirus outbreak, which began in China’s Wuhan late last year, has already led to travel restrictions and lockdowns in some of the hardest-hit countries such as Italy and France.
Government officials say the country is facing a critical moment to prevent an explosive increase that would prompt Abe to make an emergency declaration.
With the start of the new academic year in early April approaching, education minister Koichi Hagiuda said the government currently does not plan to make another request to shut schools across the board.
“We hope local authorities will take a flexible approach” to the reopening of schools, Hagiuda told a press conference after a Cabinet meeting Tuesday.
The government made an abrupt request in late February that all schools across the country be closed through to the start of spring break.
Although Abe had decided to allow schools to reopen in the new academic year, he said Saturday he would first listen to expert opinions, hinting at the possibility that the decision may change.