Japan is continuing to tighten restrictions on inbound travel as the omicron variant spreads worldwide.

Effective Thursday, the central government temporarily suspended for one month visas that have been issued but not used to enter Japan, except if the visa holder is the spouse or child of a Japanese national, permanent resident or diplomat.

The order applies to people who have yet to enter Japan on single and multiple entry visas issued by March or April 2020 — depending on the embassy responsible — in a slew of countries.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno was evasive when asked Friday whether the spouses or children of Japanese nationals who are not citizens, but hold or plan to apply for a visa, will continue to be able to enter the country.

“At present, (those individuals) are eligible to return to Japan,” he told reporters without denying the possibility of a change in policy. “Moving forward, it’s important to respond to the outbreak quickly and decisively.”

Since Tuesday, all foreign residents from 10 African countries have been banned from returning to Japan. A ban on new arrivals was also put in place for all other countries, with the sweeping measure affecting would-be foreign students, interns and those traveling for businesses. Japanese citizens, foreign residents of Japan and spouses or children of Japanese nationals are still allowed to enter.

The suspension of previously issued visas was an apparent move to help clarify who will not be allowed to return to Japan over the next month.

Since the discovery of the omicron variant in South Africa last week, countries around the world have been racing to close their borders to prevent returnees from importing the virus.

Among them, Japan’s border policies are some of the most restrictive.

A notice advising travelers of newly imposed restrictions at the arrival hall of Narita Airport in Chiba Prefecture on Tuesday. | BLOOMBERG
A notice advising travelers of newly imposed restrictions at the arrival hall of Narita Airport in Chiba Prefecture on Tuesday. | BLOOMBERG

On Thursday, the central government rescinded its request for airlines to halt reservations for inbound flights less than 24 hours after the order was handed down. The move was met with a swift backlash after critics said Japanese nationals and foreign residents could become stranded abroad.

Still, the temporary suspension of visas suggests the administration is still searching for ways to restrict inbound travel and prevent the omicron variant from spreading domestically.

Japan has reported two cases of the omicron variant. The new strain was detected in a traveler from Peru and a Namibian diplomat who landed in Tokyo on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.

While entry restrictions have been strengthened significantly, returning nationals and eligible foreign residents are still able to enter Japan as long as they quarantine at a government-designated facility for 3 to 10 days — depending on the nation they traveled from — followed in some cases by a shorter period of self-isolation at a place of their choosing.

Staff writer Satoshi Sugiyama contributed to this report.

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