• Kyodo, Jiji

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Japan will reopen its borders in stages after the coronavirus is brought under control and businesspeople will be among the first allowed to enter, Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said Friday.

“When we do begin easing travel restrictions, it will be a step-by-step process with essential personnel coming first,” he told a news conference.

Japan is banning entry to any noncitizen who has been to any of 100 designated countries and regions in the previous two weeks.

China and South Korea have similar measures in place but this month began allowing businesspeople who test negative for the coronavirus to travel between the countries.

Such an easing would come after closely monitoring the global situation and would also require that Japan has contained its outbreak, Motegi said.

The national state of emergency was lifted in 39 of the 47 prefectures Thursday as COVID-19 infections trend downward. Over 16,000 people have been officially infected nationwide, and the official death toll tops 700.

Motegi said travel restrictions will be lifted several countries at a time, such as in groups of 10, rather than individually. He also said countries removed from the list would be expected to reciprocate.

On Thursday, the Immigration Services Agency said visitors in April stood at 1,256, a tiny fraction of the 2.68 million or so who arrived a year ago.

The plunge reflects the entry ban imposed in reaction to the pandemic. In March new entrants plunged 94 percent to about 150,000.

The ban has been in place since February but wasn’t expanded to include the rest of China and South Korea until April 3. The United States also was included at that time.

In April, entrants from the U.S. plunged to just 296 from about 160,000 a year before, while those from China fell to a trickle of just 29 out of some 600,000. The same happened with South Korean visitors, who fell to 24 from about 550,000.

There were no entrants from Singapore, compared with about 40,000 a year before, and none from the Netherlands either.

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