With more countries easing entry restrictions in line with their vaccine rollouts, Japan’s most powerful business lobby is nudging the government to exempt vaccinated travelers from the country’s mandatory 14-day quarantine.

The Japan Business Federation, better known as Keidanren, on Monday called on the Suga administration to relax restrictions for fully inoculated arrivals as part of its proposals to resume international travel and revive the nation’s economy.

Keidanren also urged the government to reduce the length of the quarantine for unvaccinated travelers to 10 days, as other countries are doing. In France, vaccine passport holders are exempt from a seven-day quarantine and coronavirus testing upon arrival. Travelers to the U.K. need to isolate for 10 days but that can be reduced if they test negative on the fifth day after arrival.

The move comes as the government prepares to announce a draft later this week of how it plans to gradually open up the economy once, for instance, more than 70% of those in their 40s and 50s along with 60% of those in their 20s and 30s are vaccinated.

When Keidanren’s chief Masakazu Tokura handed the proposal to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, he was open to the idea of relaxing the measures “step by step,” Tokura said. Suga announced last week that he won’t run in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s presidential race, meaning he will resign as prime minister at the end of the month.

However, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato was cautious during his regular news conference Tuesday, saying that the government needs to monitor how the pandemic develops and how risks related to the spread of coronavirus mutations evolve.

“At present, we are seeing reports of new variants being imported from abroad,” he said.

The government is also concerned about so-called breakthrough infections confirmed in people who were already inoculated, he said.

Currently, Japan enforces stringent entry restrictions and quarantine rules. All people arriving in the country, including inoculated individuals and those who have developed immunity after recovering from COVID-19, must isolate for 14 days after entering the country.

All entrants are also required to undergo COVID-19 tests — both prior to their departure for Japan and upon arrival. On top of that, entry is restricted to residents of Japan and people deemed to have exceptional circumstances. But the Keidanren proposal stated that foreign nationals should be allowed in if they have vaccine passports or other records showing that they are fully vaccinated.

Keidanren head Masakazu Tokura (left) and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga meet in Tokyo in August. | POOL / VIA KYODO
Keidanren head Masakazu Tokura (left) and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga meet in Tokyo in August. | POOL / VIA KYODO

Keidanren’s proposal also included using vaccine passports domestically to encourage holders to travel, take part in large-scale events and meet with hospitalized patients and elderly relatives in nursing homes.

PCR testing and other COVID-19 tests should be easily available at drugstores so that people can get tested without going through public health centers and medical clinics, it said.

“It is important to consider and prepare necessary measures now so that social and economic activities can resume once the death rate and the share of patients with severe symptoms have declined sufficiently,” it said.

Keidanren’s proposals were echoed on Tuesday by an international business group in Japan.

In a statement, the European Business Council in Japan expressed its support for Keidanren’s suggestions, saying the current border control policy has heavily affected foreign businesses, as well as Japanese companies working with non-Japanese firms.

“We believe this would still be safe under the current health protocols as returnees are tested once before departing to Japan and again when entering Japan,” the group said of relaxed quarantine measures for arrivals.

In May, the EBC, together with four other groups including the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan, called on the government to ease quarantines and restrictions on travel to Japan for those who have either been fully vaccinated or have fully recovered from COVID-19.

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