Photo/Illutration A sign posted at the immigration control booth at Narita Airport informs incoming passengers of the new entry ban for foreigners who have been in Hubei province over the past two weeks. (Yoshifumi Fukuda)

The government slapped a ban on foreign nationals entering Japan if they recently visited Hubei province in central China to help curtail the spread of the deadly coronavirus, but experts cautioned the measure may only have a limited effect.

The coronavirus has spread from beyond Wuhan in Hubei province, with more than 10,000 people confirmed to be infected. The death toll in China already exceeds 200.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced late Jan. 31 that foreign nationals who have been in Hubei province over the past two weeks or those holding Chinese passports issued by Hubei provincial authorities will be barred entry unless there are specific circumstances requiring them to be in Japan.

The decision to push up a Cabinet order enacting special measures came after the coronavirus was labeled as a “designated infectious disease.” The ban would extend to even foreign nationals who do not display symptoms of the coronavirus.

Abe, chairing a special task force meeting to deal with the coronavirus in the evening of Jan. 31, called for stricter measures to prevent entry of individuals suspected of being infected but who have not been confirmed as such in the absence of showing any symptoms.

It is the first time an entry ban has been implemented for a specific foreign region, Justice Ministry officials said. The measure took effect from midnight Jan. 31.

Those entering Japan will be questioned by immigration officers about their travel movements in the past two weeks.

Koji Wada, a professor of public health at the International University of Health and Welfare, raised doubts about the effectiveness of the measure.

He noted that hordes of Chinese are already in Japan because of the recent Lunar New Year holiday, and that doctors have confirmed the coronavirus can be transmitted between people.

“We have to take the view that there are already a number of infected people in Japan,” Wada said. “While the entry ban may reassure some people, it is hard to say if it will prove effective in preventing the spread of the virus.”

He urged Japanese authorities to focus on how to prevent a possible infection from turning into a serious case.

“A medium to long-term perspective is needed to prevent the infection of those with a higher risk of developing serious symptoms, such as those with pre-existing illnesses and the elderly,” Wada said.

In a related development, health ministry officials said Jan. 31 that two Japanese who returned the day before on a second government-chartered flight from Wuhan were confirmed to have the coronavirus even though they showed no symptoms.

Twenty-six people on the second flight who complained of not feeling well were not found to be infected.

A second bus guide who escorted a tour group from Wuhan has also been confirmed to have the coronavirus. The woman in her 20s living in Chiba Prefecture was on the bus driven by a man from Nara Prefecture who was confirmed to be the first Japanese infected with the coronavirus even though he had never visited Wuhan.

Seventeen Japanese have been confirmed with the coronavirus, four of whom showed no symptoms of the illness.

Of the 149 Japanese nationals on the third charter flight that landed at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport on Jan. 31, 25 were taken to hospitals because they had suspect symptoms such as a fever. Seven Japanese who tried to board the third charter flight were stopped by Chinese health officials. Two who were stopped the previous day were allowed to take the third charter flight.

The government also raised its infectious disease advisory level for China, excluding Hubei province, to level 2 and urged citizens to avoid unnecessary travel to China.