Quarantine facilities are packed near Japan’s major airports

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Haneda Airport in early December

The omicron variant of the coronavirus is spreading all over the world — the World Health Organization said Tuesday the variant has been found in 106 countries and regions so far.

The Japanese government has expanded the scope of designated areas where the variant is raging to 52 countries and regions. People who enter Japan are required to quarantine at government-secured accommodation facilities for three to 10 days, but the facilities that accept people who come in through Narita or Haneda airport have become crowded.

This has prompted the government to take the unprecedented step of moving people to other regions.

“I was surprised to hear [that I had to go to] Sendai,” said a 34-year-old woman, recalling when she arrived at Narita Airport on Dec. 11 after an 18-hour flight from Canada.

The woman tested negative for the virus at the time of her arrival but still had to quarantine for three days under the Quarantine Law, as Japan has designated Canada as an endemic country. Hotels around the airport were fully booked, so the woman had no choice but to change planes and fly to Sendai Airport.

She arrived at a Sendai hotel at 11 p.m., eight hours after getting to Narita. She returned to Narita after testing negative on the morning of Dec. 14, three days after she landed in Japan.

Even after staying at such facilities, people returning to Japan must isolate themselves at home or elsewhere for a total of 14 days, so the woman had to quarantine for 11 more days. Her home is in the Kyushu region, and she could not use public transportation to get there.

It was impossible for her to rent a car at Narita Airport to drive all the way to Kyushu, so she chose to stay at a Tokyo hotel at her own expense.

“It’s tough physically and economically, but it can’t be helped in this situation,” the woman said. She added that she will fly home after quarantining for the remaining days.

The WHO said the number of omicron patients is doubling in 36 hours to three days, significantly faster than the delta variant, which originated in India.

The number of countries that Japan has designated as endemic nations increased from six southern African countries on Nov. 26 to more than 50 in about a month. At the peak, about 8,000 people a day have been accommodated in facilities after their arrival.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has negotiated with hotels to increase the number of available rooms from about 6,000 before infections expanded to more than 13,000. However, as there are not enough facilities around Narita and Haneda airports, the ministry has been sending people to hotels near regional airports such as Sendai, Central Japan International, Kansai International and Fukuoka.

“Hotels must be busy during the year-end and New Year holidays, but it’s important to contain this at the borders,” a ministry official said. “We’ll do our best to secure facilities.”