Japan eases border controls despite criticism of exclusion

Japan to ease its stringent COVID-19 border controls by increasing the number of people allowed entry each day and reducing quarantine requirements following criticism that its current policy is unscientific and xenophobic

TOKYO — Japan announced on Thursday it would relax its stringent COVID-19 border controls by increasing the number of people allowed entry each day and reducing quarantine requirements following criticism that its current policy is unscientific and xenophobic.

He says quarantine requirements for attendees will be reduced to three days from the current seven, and those with proof of a negative COVID-19 test and a booster shot can skip self-isolation.

Japan has banned almost all non-resident foreign entrants since the start of the pandemic. The country, which saw a significant fall in infections in the fall, briefly announced an easing in November but quickly reversed its decision after the omicron variant appeared in other countries.

Kishida said on Saturday he was considering easing border measures based on a scientific assessment of the omicron variant, infection levels in and outside Japan and quarantine measures taken by others. country.

Most of Japan is currently under virus-related restrictions. Infections have only recently begun to show signs of slowing down, likely due to delayed recalls.

Nationwide, Japan reported 91,006 new cases on Wednesday, down slightly from the previous week, after cases topped 100,000 on Feb. 5.

But experts say the infections continue to strain Japan’s medical systems, which tend to be easily overwhelmed because COVID-19 treatment is limited to government hospitals or large hospitals.

Japan has become one of the hardest-to-reach countries in the world, and critics liken it to the “sakoku” locked-country policy of the xenophobic warlords who ruled Japan from the 17th to the 19th century.

Current border rules – which are expected to remain in place until the end of February – only allow Japanese nationals and permanent foreign residents. This policy raised protests from foreign students and scholars, of whom around 150,000 were affected.

Japanese and overseas business groups have also protested against the government, saying the prolonged border closure has affected investment, trade deals, product development and shipments.

Experts say the rules harm Japan’s national interest and further delay the recovery of Japan’s pandemic-hit economy.

Many Japanese have backed strict border controls because they believe issues such as the pandemic are coming from outside their island nation. Kishida’s tight border controls are widely seen as politically motivated to win public support for his ruling party in the upcoming parliamentary elections in July.

Kishida’s government, however, is facing public criticism over the slow distribution of the booster vaccine due to a delayed decision to cut the intervals between the first two vaccines and a third to six months from the initially eight. planned.

Kishida has set a goal of giving 1 million doses a day by the end of February.

Only about 12% of the Japanese population received their third shot. Experts say the low vaccination rate is contributing to a growing number of serious cases and deaths among elderly patients.

While the fast-spreading omicron variant is less likely to cause serious cases in young people, it is increasingly causing serious illness and death in older people by worsening their underlying illnesses, beginning to overwhelm many hospitals. .

Kishida is expected to announce other virus measures on Thursday, including subsidies for hospitals that accept elderly patients and increased stipends for nursing homes that care for their residents instead of sending them to hospitals.

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