Japan’s Kishida announces easing of pandemic border controls

Japanese leader says vaccinated travellers will no longer have to produce a negative coronavirus test from September 7.

Tokyo skyline with a plane descending for arrival at Haneda airport, Tokyo, Japan.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is set to announce an easing of the country’s strict pandemic-related border restrictions [File: Toru Hanai/Bloomberg]

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has announced an easing of the country’s strict pandemic-related border restrictions, scrapping pre-departure COVID-19 tests.

Kishida said on Wednesday a requirement for a negative coronavirus test taken within 72 hours of departure would be lifted from September 7.

The Japanese leader said that no decision had been made on raising a cap on inbound passengers after local media earlier reported the quota could be lifted from 20,000 to 50,000 people each day.

“We will continue relaxing these measures gradually,” Kishida said.

Japan is one of the last major economies relying on strict border controls to manage the virus, despite vaccinating more than 80 percent of its population.

Under the current measures, tourists are required to obtain a visa and are restricted to guided, package tours.

Kishida, who cancelled trips to the Middle East and Africa after testing positive for COVID-19 over the weekend, said in May that he planned to bring Japan’s border measures more in line with G7 nations.

Although Japan welcomed the return of tourists for the first time in two years in June, the strict conditions for entry have kept the number of visitors at a fraction of pre-pandemic levels.

Japan welcomed about 144,500 foreign arrivals last month, fewer than 8,000 of whom travelled for tourism purposes, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization. The July figures represent a 95 percent plunge compared with the same month in 2019.

Business groups have called on the government to further ease restrictions, warning Japan could be left behind economically as the rest of the world learns to live with the virus.

Despite Japan’s relative isolation, COVID-19 cases in the country have soared to record highs, topping 250,000 daily cases since the start of August.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies