National / Social Issues

Japan looks to ease travel ban on China, South Korea and others in Asia

by Magdalena Osumi

STAFF WRITER

With an eye toward putting the economy on a recovery track, Japan is set to start negotiations to relaunch business travel between 10 Asian countries including China and South Korea, government sources said Friday.

Japan will also begin negotiations in July with Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Singapore and Taiwan.

“We are planning to relaunch travel in stages, starting from countries that have suppressed the spread and transmissions of the virus,” Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said during his regular news conference in Tokyo on Friday.

All of the 10 regions, which have strong economic ties with Japan, have mostly succeeded in suppressing virus transmission and thus the epidemic there is considered to be under control.

Motegi said that under the arrangements Japan will prioritize “business travelers and international talent Japan is in need of,” before easing restrictions for foreign students and eventually for tourists.

Japan has already been in talks on further relaxing business travel with Vietnam, Thailand, Australia and New Zealand. Around 440 Japanese business travelers already flew to Vietnam in late June.

The government has said that travelers under the agreements will be allowed to enter Japan after submitting a negative test for COVID-19 and an itinerary for their stay here.

Japan has been denying entry to foreign passport holders under its strict entry restrictions imposed in response to a continued rise in coronavirus infections worldwide. The government has imposed entry restrictions on travelers from 129 countries and regions, which apply to those who visited or transited in any of those areas within 14 days prior to their arrival. China was the first target of Japan’s entry restrictions as it was the original epicenter of the pandemic.

Japan has only exempted permanent residents, long-term resident visa holders, spouses, children of permanent residents and Japanese nationals who left Japan before the ban was implemented. It also allows some legal residents to return to Japan under humanitarian grounds who left for exceptional reasons, such as a relative’s death. The restrictions have been met with criticism from the international community as they have left at least several hundred legal residents with working and other valid visa statuses in Japan stranded abroad.

Between Feb. 1 and July 9, Japan denied entry to 818 foreign nationals but allowed 52,385 others to enter under special circumstances.

With the relaxation of travel restrictions, Japan will increase the number of tests conducted daily at airports as it is set to set up new testing centers for the novel coronavirus outside three major airports ― Haneda in Tokyo, Narita near the capital and Kansai in Osaka Prefecture — this summer. The planned construction of the facilities will increase the testing capacity for polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests to over 4,000.

The announcement comes as Tokyo is seeing new records of more than 200 coronavirus cases daily. But Motegi said the situation in Japan is under control and should not affect the negotiations.

Information from Kyodo added

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