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An exceptionally quiet New Year’s holiday in Japan is expected this year as the government, beginning Monday, will ban foreign visitors from entering the country and suspend a domestic discount travel program.

The implementation of the measures come after Tokyo recorded 708 new COVID-19 cases Sunday, a day after Japan saw a record 3,881 infections, including a high of 949 in the capital. The new measures are aimed at reducing the number of cases as quickly as possible, especially serious cases requiring hospital care. Many local governments are warning that they are running out of hospital beds for seriously ill patients and have insufficient medical personnel to deal with the surge in infections.

As of Saturday, seven people who had arrived in the country from Britain were infected with a new mutant variant of the coronavirus, and amid the record highs in Tokyo and nationwide, the government announced Saturday evening that it would stop issuing visas between Monday and the end of January.

The new directive means most nonresident foreign nationals will not be able to enter Japan from Monday until the end of January. There will be an exception for business travelers from 11 countries and territories, most of them in Asia, including China, South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan, and other nations that Japan has agreements with that have relaxed travel restrictions.

Nonresident foreign nationals who had obtained visas before Monday will, in principle, be allowed into Japan. However, those who have stayed in Britain or South Africa within 14 days of applying for a visa will be barred entry.

Resident foreign nationals returning to Japan may enter the country. Along with returning Japanese nationals, they will be asked to self-isolate at home or at a hotel for two weeks upon arrival.

However, Japanese nationals, as well as resident and nonresident foreign nationals from countries that aren’t subject to the entry ban, must submit documentation showing they are not infected if they are coming from or have stayed in countries and territories where the new virus strain has been confirmed. They must test for the virus at least 72 hours before their departure to Japan.

The Japanese government said Saturday it will ban new entries of all non-Japanese nationals from around the globe in principle from Dec. 28 through the end of January. | KYODO
The Japanese government said Saturday it will ban new entries of all non-Japanese nationals from around the globe in principle from Dec. 28 through the end of January. | KYODO

The ban and new restrictions start the same day the suspension of the government’s controversial Go To Travel domestic travel campaign begins. The program was designed to help Tokyo and regional economies that have been hit hard by the huge decline in tourism amid the pandemic. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced on Dec. 14 that the campaign would be suspended from Monday to Jan. 11.

Suga told a parliamentary committee last month there was no evidence the Go To Travel campaign was the main cause of the surge in COVID-19 cases. At a Friday news conference, he said inflections linked to the campaign were low, but that the program was being halted due to his poor communication over the government’s coronavirus policy.

“The Go To Travel campaign began in July and has been used by 70 million people, resulting in only 340 confirmed infections. It has greatly contributed to propping up regional economies,” Suga said.

“However, there are concerns and difficulties in understanding policies that deal with the virus and promote the Go To campaign at the same time. There are also aspects of my own explanations that have been insufficient,” he added.

Many local governments are eager to have tourists begin returning from Jan. 12. Last week, all 47 prefectural governors called on the central government to consider reopening the Go To travel campaign in stages, allowing discounted travel deals for those areas of the country where infections have subsided.

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