Reinforce COVID-19 testing system as border control measures are eased

If Japan continues to implement border control measures against the novel coronavirus that are unusually strict even by international standards, it could lead to the stagnation of the economy and social activities. It is vital to promote the resumption of the flow of people to and from overseas, while taking sufficient pandemic measures.

The government said it would relax border control measures implemented in response to the outbreak of the omicron variant. It plans to permit the entry of foreign businesspeople and students from March, changing its policy of banning, in principle, nonresident foreigners from visiting Japan.

For the time being, the government will raise the maximum number of people allowed to enter Japan per day from about 3,500 to about 5,000, and increase the number of nonresident foreign nationals it allows into the country.

Stricter border control measures had an effect in slowing down the influx of the omicron variant at the initial stage. But now that the variant has spread domestically and other countries have taken steps to reopen their borders one after another, the negative effects of strict border controls are more noticeable. The decision by the Japanese government to relax its border control measures was appropriate, and they should be further eased gradually.

Last year, the number of foreign nationals entering Japan decreased by 92% from the previous year. Business circles have strongly urged the government to review the border control measures, saying they are hampering companies from doing business with foreign partners.

As of the end of last year, 150,000 foreign students could not come to Japan even though they had received prior approval for their status of residence, and some of them have changed their study destinations to other countries. Studying in Japan is a good opportunity for foreign students to deepen their understanding of the country and share what they learn with the world. The impact of losing such opportunities is significant.

But, there are concerns about whether it will be possible to accept foreign students who wish to enroll in the new school year if the number of people allowed to enter Japan is only being increased by 1,500.

It is advisable to increase the number of foreign students allowed to enter Japan if host universities can provide accommodation facilities for their health observation after they have entered the country. Efforts must be made to ensure that foreign students who wish to study in Japan will not be disadvantaged.

When entry restrictions were temporarily relaxed last year, some pointed out that administrative procedures were complicated and the system was difficult to utilize. It is necessary to simplify the system and make it possible to get a quick response.

Needless to say, the easing of entry restrictions should not exacerbate the infection situation in the country again. Improving the testing system in airport quarantine inspections and establishing a system to ensure that positive cases are isolated are major prerequisites.

With the relaxing of border control measures this time, the isolation period will be shortened from seven days to three days or even waived on the condition that travelers have tested negative for the coronavirus or have received a booster vaccine.

Companies and schools that host people from abroad need to keep in close contact with them and ensure that they are able to seek medical attention immediately if they develop symptoms.

It is important to return society to normalcy through flexible measures, rather than imposing blanket entry restrictions.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Feb. 18, 2022.