THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
January 2, 2021 at 15:55 JST
An arriving passenger at Narita Airport in Chiba Prefecture receives a polymerase chain reaction test. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
Japan is considering retracting preferential treatment for nationals of 11 nations where COVID-19 cases are comparatively under control.
The favored treatment for short-term business travel as well as longer term foreign students and technical intern trainees would be withdrawn if any of the nations registers an increase in the spread of new strains of the novel coronavirus in their local communities, according to several government sources.
The 11 nations include China and South Korea.
As mutual preferential treatment had been agreed to through negotiations, any move to withdraw those steps would also involve further negotiations.
The measure for short-term business travelers involves China, South Korea, Vietnam and Singapore. Business travelers from those nations are not required to self-isolate for two weeks after arriving in Japan.
Students and technical intern trainees from 11 nations have been allowed entry since July, but they are required to self-quarantine for two weeks after their arrival.
The government also relaxed entry restrictions for all nations with regard to medium- to long-term stays. But that measure was withdrawn for Britain and South Africa in late December after new strains of the coronavirus were found to be spreading there. The retraction of relaxed entry applied to all nations as of Dec. 28.
The global norm has been to tighten entry from nations where COVID-19 cases are spreading.
Most arriving passengers from nations where infections are spreading have been returning Japanese nationals.
Those trends led some in the government to argue there was no need to retract the relaxed entry restrictions for all countries. But the Suga administration opted for tightened entry.
Members of the ruling coalition as well as opposition parties criticized the step because arrivals were still approved for nationals from China and South Korea.
According to the Immigration Services Agency, there were about 3,830 arrivals under the preferential treatment program from China, about 3,390 from Vietnam and about 340 from South Korea in the one-week period from Dec. 14.
A new strain of the coronavirus was detected by quarantine officers at an airport in South Korea, but it has not yet spread into the community there, according to Foreign Ministry sources.
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