Remain vigilant against infections after easing restrictions on entry

The number of new infections with the novel coronavirus has fallen dramatically in Japan, and the resumption of normal economic activities is now in sight. While making sure that infection control measures do not grow lax, the country needs to gradually expand the flow of people to and from overseas.

On Monday, the government eased restrictions on entry into Japan from abroad. The government said it will allow, after a certain waiting period, the new entry of overseas business people, technical interns and students, which had not been allowed in principle.

Major countries in Europe and the United States exempt people entering from Japan from quarantine if they have proof of vaccination or a negative test result for the virus. Japan has been seen as having some of the world’s strictest conditions for foreign entry. The relaxation of restrictions is a global trend.

Japan’s nursing care facilities and farmers are facing a serious shortage of human resources, as the foreign technical interns they had counted on have been unable to enter the country. In some cases, foreign students had to change their destinations to other countries due to Japan’s caution about accepting them.

It is hoped that the easing of restrictions will solve these problems.

However, the number of new infections in Europe is increasing again. The government must take all possible steps to ensure that easing restrictions on entry does not lead to another surge in infections in Japan.

The length of time that Japanese people returning from overseas business trips have to stay at home was reduced from 10 days to three days if they have been vaccinated and tested negative for the virus. The same conditions apply to foreigners entering the country for business purposes.

Foreign technical interns and students who stay in Japan for a long period of time will be required to isolate themselves for a minimum of 10 days.

In both cases, the relevant organization — for example, the company or school that accepts the foreign nationals — is required to submit a plan to the appropriate government offices and obtain prior approval. In principle, infection control is the responsibility of the host organization, but it is important for the government to provide support and not leave it entirely to companies and schools.

Some people have voiced concern that the border control program is difficult to utilize because there are too many documents that must be submitted to the government. It will be necessary to simplify the program in stages while assessing the situation.

The government should provide an opportunity for unvaccinated foreigners to be vaccinated. It also needs to set up a system under which people who want to be tested for the virus can get a test immediately.

Foreigners often face language barriers and may not know where to get vaccinated or tested. Meticulous measures should be implemented, such as providing information in multiple languages.

As more people enter the country from abroad, there is a risk of new mutated viruses spreading in Japan. If signs of spread are detected, it is important for the government to respond flexibly by re-enforcing entry restrictions as appropriate.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Nov. 9, 2021.