Japan will reduce some of its strict border control policies implemented in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic after its regulations were attacked as unscientific and xenophobic.
Daily entry caps will be increased and quarantine requirements will be reduced.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said, beginning on March 1, 5,000 people, including citizens and foreign residents, will now be granted entry into Japan each day. Currently, entries are limited to 3,500 people a day.
During his Feb. 17 announcement, Kishida said his government will monitor its COVID-19 cases to determine when foreign tourists can be allowed to enter. This includes evaluating the state of the Omicron variant, infection levels, and global quarantine policies.
“It’s not realistic to ease the measures all at once,” Kishida said. “Now is the most difficult time to cope. I seek cooperation from everyone for just a little longer so we can overcome this difficulty.”
According to ABC News, “Japan has become one of the world’s most difficult countries to enter and critics compare it to the ‘sakoku’ locked-country policy of xenophobic warlords who ruled Japan in the 17th to 19th centuries.”
Current travel and immigration rules permit only Japanese citizens and foreigners with residency to enter the country. The rules have impacted approximately 150,000 foreign students who have protested the decision.
Both domestic and international business groups have expressed their opposition to the border policies. They’ve argued that the lengthy border closure inhibits business deals, affects investments, and delays deliveries.
Japan has also reduced the seven-day quarantine period for arrivals to a three-day period provided the traveler can show proof of a booster shot and a negative COVID-19 test.
The United States Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel commended the Japanese government for modifying its border restrictions.
“This decision will benefit students, who are essential for building long-term people-to-people connections between Japan and the United States,” Emanuel said in a statement. “It will also benefit business travelers, who are vital for ensuring that the economic ties between Japan and the United States, as well as other like-minded economic partners, are as strong as they can be.”
“We at the Embassy will continue to work with our counterparts in the Government of Japan to further combat the COVID-19 pandemic here and abroad, while finding discrete ways to make additional progress on the economic front,” he added.
Approximately 80% of people in Japan are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The World Health Organization reports there have been just over 90,500 new cases of the virus in the last 24 hours. Since March of 202o, data indicates there have been 20,954 deaths from COVID-19.
The announcement comes as several European countries, including Germany, Austria, and Switerzland, scale down their COVID-19 mandates in the wake of declining case numbers.