Experts are increasingly concerned by the government’s moves to ease its entry restrictions in place amid the coronavirus pandemic, saying that a rise in arrivals from abroad will increase the risk of a new wave of infections.
Currently, the government’s coronavirus-linked entry ban covers 110 countries and one region, with people who have been to any of these areas in the past two weeks denied entry to Japan in principle.
The government is examining ways to ease entry bans, taking into consideration various factors, and would ease restrictions in stages if it decided to do so, Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi has told the Diet.
Motegi has agreed with his counterparts from Vietnam, Australia and New Zealand to discuss the possibility of re-allowing travel to those who need it, he said.
According to an estimate, however, a large-scale outbreak could occur in three months if 10 infected people enter Japan daily. “Border control measures cannot be perfect,” an expert warned, urging the government to take appropriate steps, such as restricting entries.
The estimate was made by experts including Hokkaido University professor Hiroshi Nishiura, who specializes in theoretical epidemiology.
Under conditions that all visitors from abroad take PCR tests and are asked to stay in designated facilities for two weeks upon arriving in Japan, the team calculated the probabilities of an occurrence of an outbreak requiring a state of emergency to be issued — assuming that the sensitivity of PCR tests is 70 percent, and 80 percent of the visitors will abide by the two-week quarantine request.
If 1,000 people enter Japan from virus-hit areas daily and 10 of them are infected with the virus, the chance of a large-scale outbreak occurring in 90 days would be 98.7 percent, according to the estimate. Without the quarantine measure, the rate would be 100 percent.
The probability would be far lower, at 35.3 percent, if 1 in 1,000 visitors carries the virus.
But the chance of a large-scale outbreak would increase to 58.1 percent if two people out of 2,000 visitors are infected. Similarly, the rate would be 82.5 percent and 96.9 percent if 4 in 4,000 visitors and 8 in 8,000 visitors are infected with the virus, respectively.
An outbreak will occur with higher probabilities if the number of infected visitors increases, the experts said.
It is believed that the coronavirus outbreak that has crippled Japan since late March occurred due to entries by infected people from the United States and Europe.
A government panel of experts has warned that resumption of cross-border travel could help the virus spread in Japan again, calling for the number of visitors from abroad to be limited for the time being and then be increased in stages.
“Not all infected people can be identified through border measures,” International University of Health and Welfare professor Koji Wada, a public health expert, said.
“Due to language barriers, it would be hard for local health centers to deal with all foreigners who are found infected with the virus after entering Japan,” he said.
Wada also suggested that the country’s quarantine and health center systems may collapse if the number of foreign visitors increases drastically and an outbreak occurs again.
“The government needs to take adequate measures if it eases its entry restrictions,” Wada added.
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