Photo/Illutration Quarantine officers ask passengers about their recent travel history at Narita Airport on Nov. 1 to determine if they need to be tested for the novel coronavirus. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga committed another gaffe, grossly understating the number of arrivals from Britain, who are now targeted for stricter entry restrictions amid the spread of a new strain of the novel coronavirus.

To stress that Japan is safe from the new strain, Suga said on Dec. 21 only “one or two” people enter from Britain daily, but the actual number is about 150, it turns out.

The Japanese government started considering strengthening anti-virus measures on Dec. 21 following the emergence of the new variant of the virus and excluded Britain from its list of nations targeted for eased entry restrictions on Dec. 24.

“I understand that only people under special circumstances can enter Japan, such as Japanese nationals residing in Britain,” Suga said during a TV news program aired by Tokyo Broadcasting System Television (TBS) Inc. on the evening of Dec. 21.

“I heard that one or two such individuals have been returning daily.”

But Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato revealed at a Dec. 23 news conference that Japan has had a daily average of 150 or so arrivals from Britain in December, some 140 of whom are Japanese nationals.

Kato said Suga might have been referring to “the number of people who have returned from Britain and tested positive for the virus.”

Currently, 15 direct flights between Britain and Tokyo’s Haneda Airport operate weekly.

Yukio Edano, leader of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, slammed Suga for getting his facts wrong when the Lower House’s Committee on Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism met on Dec. 23 for deliberations.

“Suga’s comment shows the government as a whole lacks a sense of crisis,” Edano told reporters after the committee meeting.

One senior government official went so far as to express concerns over Suga’s remark, labeling it a “blow” to the government.

(This article was written by Yuki Nikaido and Tatsuya Sato.)