Govt struggling to monitor returnees and reentering foreigners

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
A Narita Airport terminal is seen decorated with an official design of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

The government is struggling to monitor the activities of Japanese who have returned from abroad or foreign nationals who have reentered the country over measures to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus infection, as there have been many cases of people failing to comply with requests to self-quarantine at home or at facilities such as hotels for 14 days even if they have tested negative for the virus on arrival.

It also is difficult for the government to impose strict restrictions on their freedom of movement in light of the Constitution.

Sense of alarm

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
A virus test is administered at Narita Airport in Chiba Prefecture on April 14.

From May 9 to 15, a total daily average of 22,589 Japanese returnees and reentering foreigners were asked to stay at home or at a designated facility after entering Japan, according to a Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry report presented on Wednesday at a joint meeting of the Liberal Democratic Party’s Foreign Affairs Division and others. But 29.4% of those people, or 6,644, failed to report their location, and 22.3%, or 5,050, failed to report their health condition.

In an effort to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, the government asks people who enter the country to self-quarantine for 14 days and to report their location several times a day through smartphone apps and other means. They also are required to report their health condition once a day to the Health Monitoring Center for Overseas Entrants established by the ministry.

The government is increasingly concerned about the situation in which 30% of the returnees and reentering foreigners do not report their location, since the information is necessary to confirm whether they are observing the self-quarantine requirements.

The ministry commissioned private companies to make video phone calls to the returnees and reentering foreigners on smartphones and to visit their homes. If whereabouts still cannot be confirmed, the ministry plans to publicize their names or, in the case of foreign nationals, seek the revoke their status of residence and deport them.

Shortage of labor

“If we don’t thoroughly manage their moves and activities, the public’s anxiety will increase,” a senior LDP member said.

Renho, an acting leader of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, also criticized a “flaw” in the government’s management at the House of Councillors Budget Committee on May 10. She said the increasing number of people who cannot be contacted after returning to or reentering Japan “may lead to the spread of infections in communities.”

It is undeniable that there is a shortage of manpower. The government has commissioned only 160 people to monitor the activities of returnees and reentering foreigners. There is no legally binding authority for requesting them to self-quarantine at home or a designated facility, or to report their location.

A government official said, “At present, things are left to the morals of the returnees and reentering foreigners.” There have so far been no cases in which the government disclosed the names of those who did not report their location or health conditions.

Some in the government and the LDP say that it would be difficult to impose strict restrictions on their movement unless the Constitution is amended.