About 6,600 people, or roughly 29% of the 23,000 travelers self-quarantining on any given day after entering Japan, have not been responding to smartphone app notifications used to confirm their whereabouts, according to health ministry data unveiled Wednesday.
Although authorities have been following up via video calls since May 13, they were not able to do so before then, the health ministry said.
According to data revealed to a Liberal Democratic Party policy committee, another 5,000 people, or roughly 20%, have been failing to report their health condition.
The latest figures underline the government’s struggles in checking on arrivals’ health and adherence to quarantine protocols, which is key to stopping new coronavirus variants running rampant overseas from spreading in Japan.
Masahisa Sato, head of the LDP’s Foreign Affairs Committee, stressed the importance of making sure the quarantine measures are functioning properly, urging the government to punish rule-breakers and revise the quarantine system.
“In one case, a person who returned to Japan after traveling to Las Vegas for pleasure showed up at work during the 14-day quarantine period,” Sato said. “It’s like a busted water pipe that is flooding the area.”
All travelers to Japan are required to self-quarantine for 14 days at home, a hotel or other designated facility, even if they test negative upon entry. To check up on their health condition, staffers contact them by email every day.
Wednesday’s health ministry data showed that about 5,000 people, or 22% of the total, failed to respond to those emails. When they don’t respond, officials contact them by phone or video call.
In addition, officials keep track of their whereabouts via a location-tracking app called Overseas Entrants Locator (OEL), which they are required to have installed on their smartphone upon arrival.
During the quarantine period, they are required to send their location information several times a day when they receive a notification prompting them to do so.
If the monitoring team can’t contact an individual via video call or any other means for more than three days, employees from a private security company visit their quarantine location. The visits started on April 30 on a small scale, but the monitoring team plans to increase the number to 50 visits per day by the end of this month, and expand it further.
Those who fail to report their whereabouts and do not comply with quarantine protocols may have their names and other personal information disclosed. If they are a foreign national, they may even have their residence status revoked.
The unreported cases were at least partly due to technical errors. Many users of the tracking apps have reported technical problems that made them unable to check in and report their status or whereabouts.
OEL has only a 1.5-star rating on the Apple App Store, and many users have claimed in reviews that they did not receive passwords to log in or that notifications were easily missed.
The current border policy bans new arrivals, and only non-Japanese with a valid residence status and Japanese nationals are allowed to re-enter the country, except for a few cases such as emergencies.
Meanwhile, Japan is planning to welcome around 15,000 athletes and up to 90,000 officials from around the world for the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, with the opening ceremony for the former slated for July 23. Foreign spectators are banned from attending but thousands of members of the media are expected to enter Japan to cover the games.
Staff writer Satoshi Sugiyama contributed to this report.
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