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As the government prepares to extend the state of emergency covering the Tokyo region, Japan has applied its strictest border control measures to more countries and left the borders closed for nonresident foreign nationals.

Currently, only Japanese citizens, foreign nationals with valid residency status in Japan and travelers seeking entry in emergencies are granted permission to enter the country.

Japan reimposed a blanket travel ban on new entry by foreign nationals in late December after having confirmed imported infections with new coronavirus strains, which are thought to be more transmissible than conventional strains. Government sources previously said the travel restrictions would likely be rolled back when the state of emergency expires on Sunday, or sooner if the pandemic situation in Japan and abroad improved. But with the government leaning toward extending the emergency order for the Tokyo area beyond March 7, because of the variants and the slowing decline of new infections, the government has pushed back the decision concerning further changes to travel restrictions until further notice.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said Wednesday that the state of emergency, now covering just Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures — Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitama — should be extended for around two weeks. Speaking at the Upper House Budget Committee, Suga also said the rate of transmission of new coronavirus variants would be included in the criteria for lifting the state of emergency. He is due to make a final decision concerning the extension on Friday.

At the same time, in response to more reports of cases involving new coronavirus variants, Japan has imposed stricter post-entry quarantine rules for people coming from 13 countries and regions.

All people coming from abroad are required to undergo tests for COVID-19 prior to their departure for Japan, submit proof they have tested negative upon arrival and observe a 14-day quarantine. However, with the change, people arriving from Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Slovakia, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates will be required to self-isolate for the first three days at facilities designated by the government. After that period, they will be required to undergo tests for the novel coronavirus once again, and only those who test negative will be able to self-isolate at home or at a hotel of their choice for the remainder of the quarantine period.

The revision was set to take effect Friday.

Such measures have already been imposed on people traveling from the U.K., South Africa, Israel, Ireland, and Brazil’s Amazonas state.

Meanwhile, as it doubles down on its commitment to host the delayed Olympic and Paralympic Games this summer, the government is reportedly considering expanding exemptions to cover athletes, their coaches and other staff as early as this month.

Narita Airport in Chiba Prefecture last month. All people coming from abroad are required to undergo tests for COVID-19 prior to their departure for Japan, submit proof they have tested negative upon arrival and observe a 14-day quarantine. | BLOOMBERG
Narita Airport in Chiba Prefecture last month. All people coming from abroad are required to undergo tests for COVID-19 prior to their departure for Japan, submit proof they have tested negative upon arrival and observe a 14-day quarantine. | BLOOMBERG

According to the Tokyo Organising Committee’s guidelines outlining measures against COVID-19, which were released in February, Olympic athletes will not be subject to the 14-day quarantine requirements upon entry as they prepare for the games. Those using the exemption for the Olympics, however, will not be allowed to use public transportation and their travel will be restricted to dedicated buses or other vehicles. The guidelines also say that athletes, who will be tested for the virus every four days, will also be required to monitor their health, while their movement will be limited to accommodation and training venues.

The border closures for new visa applicants, which continued throughout most of 2020, have once again triggered calls from academic and global business groups concerned about effects on international students and workers, as well as families seeking to relocate to Japan this year.

Four business lobby groups in Japan, including the American Chamber of Commerce and the European Business Council, have recently called for Tokyo to resume visa-related processes, stressing that the ability to travel is critical for foreign companies operating here.

In a statement issued Feb. 19, the groups stressed that travel bans hindering the employment of new foreign personnel will pose increasingly significant problems for multinational companies operating in or considering investments in the country, as well as Japanese companies cooperating with foreign partners.

“We therefore hope that as the current emergency period draws to a close, the government will resume issuance of new visas and landing permits for essential foreign personnel as soon as possible,” the business groups said.

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