Japan suspends entry of all non-resident foreign nationals over new virus variant

Japan has halted the entry of all nonresident foreign nationals into the country in a bid to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said Wednesday.
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The departure lobby for international flights at Kansai International Airport is vacant on Jan. 5. Photo: Kyodo

The government last month halted new entries worldwide, except business travelers and students from Taiwan and 10 Asian countries -- Brunei, Cambodia, China, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, Singapore, South Korea, and Vietnam -- had been exempt, Kyodo News reported.

The special treatment will be halted until Feb. 7, the last day of an ongoing state of emergency in the Tokyo metropolitan area and some other parts of Japan, Suga said at a press conference.

For the suspension, Suga said, "We will swiftly complete arrangements" with the 10 countries and Taiwan, adding that he "took seriously growing anxieties among the Japanese people."

For Japanese and resident foreigners who are allowed to enter, Yasutoshi Nishimura, Minister in charge of the country's coronavirus response, said it will require them to sign a pledge upon arrival to stay in quarantine for 14 days, and violating it would result in penalties, such as disclosing the names of violators.

In addition, foreign residents who breach the 14-day quarantine rule will have their resident status revoked and be subject to deportation, Nishimura said at a separate press conference.

The new measures have been taken since Thursday because of a recent case where a man who returned from Britain dined with multiple people during his 14-day self-isolation period and caused the spread of a new strain of the virus.

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A man wearing a mask walks the street of Tokyo, Japan, December 2020. Photo: Reuters

Suga announced the entry suspension involving the 10 countries and Taiwan shortly after he declared a state of emergency in Osaka, Aichi, and five other prefectures.

Just days earlier, he said during a TV interview that Japan would continue allowing the entries as long as new coronavirus variants, feared to be more infectious, were not detected within their populations.

But lawmakers within his Liberal Democratic Party had pushed for the exemption to be suspended, arguing it was contradictory to ask Japanese people to stay home under the state of emergency while allowing nonresident foreign nationals into the country.

On December 28, Japan had stopped new entries into the country to halt the spread of new coronavirus variants that were spreading in the U.K., South Africa, and other regions. But those entering Japan through the business visit program was still allowed.

Between Jan. 4 and last Sunday, as many as 11,546 people, mainly from Vietnam and China, had entered Japan using the reciprocal business travel programs, according to Justice Ministry data.

Last year, Japan had eased travel restrictions on Vietnamese and some other nationals in an effort to revive its battered economy, allowing non-tourist arrivals.

Its embassy in Vietnam started to issue visas in late November for short-term commercial purposes such as market research, negotiations and signing contracts, cultural exchanges, training programs, and long-term stay.

Japan has had over 297,000 Covid-19 cases so far and 4,100 deaths.

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