Photo/Illutration Narita International Airport in Chiba Prefecture close to Tokyo on Dec. 12 (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Japan is close to suspending relaxed entry restrictions for foreign nationals under business travel and other agreements with 11 countries and regions, including China and South Korea, regardless of whether or not those areas are confirmed to have a mutated strain of the novel coronavirus.

The move comes as the government is expected to declare a second state of emergency to curb spiraling cases of COVID-19. The latest measure will effectively ban entry of almost all foreign arrivals.

The government initially planned to suspend relaxed entry restrictions for the 11 areas on a case-by-case basis if the new variant of the coronavirus was confirmed.

“We will halt the eased measures immediately if we find the new variant in those partner countries,” Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference on the morning of Jan. 4.

But ruling and opposition party lawmakers opposed such a loose step, so Suga changed the policy.

The government is considering the duration of the suspension, which will take effect at least during the period under the state of emergency expected to be declared any day now, official sources said.

Entry of business travelers, students and technical intern trainees from 11 nations and regions, such as China, South Korea, Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand and Taiwan, is currently permitted under certain conditions.

According to the Immigration Services Agency, there were about 3,830 arrivals under the preferential treatment program from China, 3,390 or so from Vietnam and about 340 from South Korea during the one-week period from Dec. 14.

The government had been relaxing entry restrictions step by step ahead of the Tokyo Olympics scheduled to be held this summer after a one-year delay due to the pandemic.

Foreign nationals who have residency status in Japan are exempt from the entry ban.

Japan will continue to permit entry of foreign nationals as an exceptional measure if they have “special reasons,” such as humanitarian concerns, officials said.