Japan Looks to Ease COVID-19 Border Controls Further

REUTERS file photo
A foreign tourist with tattoos on her arms uses a fan at Meiji Shrine during a heatwave in Tokyo, Japan July 25, 2018.

Tokyo (Jiji Press)—The Japanese government is looking to remove the country’s entry cap and reopen borders to individual foreign travelers, possibly as early as October, people familiar with the matter said.

The government hopes that easing the COVID-19 border control measures further will help bring more visitors to Japan and get the country’s economy back on track.

Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Seiji Kihara said on television Sunday that inbound travel is the most effective measure for the economy, given the yen’s depreciation. “As the (rest of) the world has resumed exchanges, we mustn’t fall behind,” he said.

Touching on visa exemptions in addition to the removal of the upper limit on the number of people allowed to enter Japan and the reopening of the country to foreign tourists traveling to Japan on their own, Kihara said that the government will implement them “comprehensively and in the not so distant future.”

Japan started to welcome back foreign tourists on package tours in June, when the country set the daily entry cap at 20,000.

The number of foreign visitors to Japan came to 144,500 in July, a mere 5 pct of the figure in July 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an estimate by the Japan National Tourism Organization.

While the entry cap was raised to 50,000 on Wednesday, many in the tourism and other sectors are calling for further relaxation of COVID-19 border controls.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has reiterated plans to ease the country’s border controls to match those of other Group of Seven nations.

Japan is the only G-7 member currently implementing an entry cap and suspending visa-free travel, according to the Foreign Ministry.

“Japan, without a doubt, will move toward a further relaxation of restrictions,” a ministry official said.

Boosting flows of people entering and leaving Japan may, however, increase the risk of another COVID-19 infection wave.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said at a press conference on Monday, “We’ll work on easing restrictions while finding a balance between border controls and social and economic activities.”