Photo/Illutration Aircraft of Japan Airlines Co. and All Nippon Airways Co. at Narita Airport (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Initial cheers for the eased COVID-19 restrictions on business travelers returning to Japan have turned into groans and complaints about complicated application procedures and impractical rules.

The government on Nov. 8 shortened the self-quarantine period for fully vaccinated business travelers from 10 days after entering Japan to three days from the day following their arrivals.

Some companies, such as trading firms, welcomed the government’s decision. But complaints have been rife in the two weeks of the supposed eased rules.

“The relaxed restrictions fail to bring benefits because of the procedures and contents,” Teruki Yamada, senior director of international affairs at the Japan Transport and Tourism Research Institute, said at a news conference held at the transport ministry building on Nov. 22. “I call for a review of the measure.”

To shorten the self-quarantine period to three days, employers of returning travelers must submit four to five kinds of documents, such as application forms, written pledges and the travelers’ itineraries after their arrivals, for screening by government ministries and agencies overseeing the process.

The health ministry’s website says it may take about three weeks before the screening process is completed.

The companies are also required to provide detailed information about the plans of the employees’ daily activities after their arrivals, including their workplaces and dinner party venues as well as means of transportation.

“It’s difficult to decide on the details of all those plans three weeks in advance,” said a person associated with a major transportation company. “Such complicated paperwork places a heavy burden on us.”

Employers responsible for the actions of employees returning from overseas also need to send officials to airports to pick up the arrivals each time, in principle. One initial purpose of the dispatches was to check if the travelers had installed a smartphone app used to monitor their movements after landing in Japan.

The government later exempted businesses from dispatching officials to airports for that purpose if they could provide screen shots and other images to prove that the travelers had installed the app.

But before the exception was made, companies with many employees returning from abroad complained that they needed to station officials at airports to comply with the rules.

20211123-travel2-L
Passengers head to an area for COVID-19 tests at Narita Airport on Nov. 8. (Hikaru Uchida)

RESTRICTIONS AFTER SELF-QUARANTINE

Returning travelers cannot freely move around even after the three days of self-quarantine.

They can only board Shinkansen bullet trains and airplanes, where they can reserve seats, and are prohibited from using public trains or buses.

When they go to their companies, they are supposed to work in a private room as much as possible.

“Only those in top management can follow such measures,” said a Tokyo-based real estate company employee who plans to soon leave on an overseas business trip.

If the retuning employees join a dinner party necessary for their work, their employers must check on the health conditions of all attendees for the following 10 days.

Companies are criticizing government authorities for forcing their pandemic-related responsibilities onto businesses.

Some even suspect that the government shortened the self-quarantine period just to make it look like it has eased restrictions.

The health ministry is working to cut red tape by reducing the number of documents needed to be submitted. But it maintains a stance that relaxed restrictions must not lead to a higher risk of spreading the virus brought into the country.

“It’s unavoidable to (impose tough rules), given the resurgence of infections overseas,” said Atsuo Hamada, a specially appointed professor at Tokyo Medical University Hospital Traveller’s Medical Center who is well-versed in infectious diseases.

(This article was written by Takehiro Tomoda and Hiroshi Ishizuka.)