April 1, 2023

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Japan eases strict border controls criticized by businessmen and educators

Japan eases strict border controls criticized by businessmen and educators

Men in protective suits make their way at a bus stop at Narita International Airport on the first day of a closed border to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus Omicron amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in Narita, east of Tokyo, Japan on November 30, 2021. (Reuters) Kim Kyung-Hoon

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TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Thursday that Japan will ease border restrictions to tackle the epidemic, easing measures that have been among the toughest imposed by rich countries and have been criticized by businessmen and educators.

About 150,000 foreign students have been turned away from Japan, along with much-needed workers from an aging country whose population is shrinking, leading to warnings of labor shortages and damage to Japan’s international reputation. Read more

Starting in March, the authorities will raise the number of people allowed in to 5,000 per day from 3,500 now, Kishida said at a press conference. He said the change would not apply to tourists who effectively stay out of the country.

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The mandatory quarantine period will be reduced to three days in some circumstances, from seven days now, he said, adding that in some cases there will be no need for quarantine.

Change is coming, Kishida said, as the number of coronavirus infections shows signs of declining, which means Japan needs to start preparing for a new phase.

However, he said the semi-emergency measures in place for some 17 districts will continue until March 6.

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US Ambassador Rahm Emanuel praised the decision, saying in a statement that it will benefit foreign students who wish to come to Japan while maintaining public health.

Japan, which has been effectively closed to non-residents for two years, briefly relaxed its border controls in late 2021 but tightened them again just weeks later with the emergence of the Omicron variant overseas.

Japan currently classifies 82 countries as “high risk” and requires a week of quarantine, including three or six days in a hotel, for many. Two weeks of quarantine were required until mid-January.

Kishida and his government have praised the tight border controls for buying time for Japan with Omicron spreading around the world, and the vast majority of the public supporting them.

However, with the genre now widespread in Japan, which is struggling to implement booster shots, business leaders and some politicians have warned that the measures are outdated. Read more

For Kishida, who faces a crucial election in July, deciding when and how to change procedures is difficult, said political analyst Atsu Ito.

“If you look at the general situation now, it makes no sense: you can catch the virus anywhere. But as a result of their presence, he got a lot of public support,” he said.

If not changed, Ito added, “the long-term consequence is that Japan will be left behind by the rest of the world.”

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(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka and Elaine Laiss); Editing by Jerry Doyle, David Dolan and Mark Heinrich

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