BY MAGDALENA OSUMI, STAFF WRITER
Japan has once again tightened quarantine measures for arrivals from countries affected by a coronavirus variant first detected in India.
People entering Japan from India and several other countries from Friday will have to self-isolate at government-designated facilities for 10 days. Beginning the same day, travelers from several other countries will be required to quarantine for three days at facility picked by the government, provide updates to authorities and undergo additional tests.
The recent moves are part of a crackdown on the spread of the “double mutant” coronavirus variant, which was found in India last year and has already made its way to Japan.
“The government will continue to closely monitor the infection situation in each country and take all the necessary measures needed to alleviate the anxiety of the public,” top government spokesman Katsunobu Kato said Tuesday.
However, as measures vary depending on point of departure or recent travel, the revision of the quarantine policy, the fourth this month, is likely to add to the confusion about who is able to enter Japan and under what conditions, as well as the protocols they are required to follow after their arrival.
Here is what you need to know about the latest changes to the entry restrictions and quarantine measures.
How does the implementation of quarantine protocols differ?
Japan has so far imposed a variety of measures for arrivals depending on the situation in the country they are coming from. Currently 159 countries are covered by some form of travel restrictions and quarantine measures.
All arrivals are required to undergo tests prior to their departure for Japan and submit a negative result of a COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours before their departure, and then self-isolate at home, a hotel or another facility for 14 days after entering Japan. During that time, people under quarantine cannot use public transport and need to report their whereabouts and health condition on a daily basis.
Quarantine measures, however, have been divided into three categories, with the most stringent steps covering countries where the variant known as B.1.617 has been confirmed and is rampant. According to the World Health Organization, the variant, which was first detected in India, has already been confirmed in 53 countries and regions. Japan has so far introduced precautionary measures for 17 of those countries.
The measures are not expected to apply to people related to the Tokyo Games, as they are covered by a separate set of border control measures.
What are the most stringent quarantine measures?
Entry permission for travelers from India and some of its neighboring countries has been limited to Japanese citizens and permanent residents, with exceptions made for their families and, in limited cases, people who are seeking entry under special circumstances. The other countries to which these measures apply are Bangladesh, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
From Friday, people arriving from those countries will need to stay for 10 days at hotels or other government-designated accommodation facilities and will need to get tested for the coronavirus upon arrival, as well as on the third, sixth and 10th days after their arrival. At present, the self-isolation period involving stricter surveillance for people from those countries lasts six days. Those who are staying in government-designated facilities are obligated to stay inside their rooms for the entire period to avoid contact with other people and need to strictly observe other monitoring rules, while also taking multiple tests. Only those who test negative for COVID-19 will be allowed to relocate for the remainder of the quarantine period to facilities of their choice or return home.
Who else needs to self-quarantine in designated facilities under stricter surveillance?
Somewhat looser restrictions have been applied to regions where the B.1.617 variant has been spreading, but which have reported fewer cases of such infections and where a large proportion of the population has been inoculated. The measure also applies to countries that have reported other variants ー N501Y, which was first identified in South Africa, and B.1.1.7, which was first detected in Britain. Those variants have also been deemed more transmissible than the original strain.
Travelers from those regions are required to report their status to authorities while under quarantine at designated facilities for three days and get tested for COVID-19 on the first and third day of their arrival. If the test is negative, arrivals can then self-isolate at home or another facility for the remainder of their 14-day quarantine period.
Currently, some of the countries covered by this rule include Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Jordan, the Netherlands, Poland, Denmark and the U.K.
Kazakhstan and Tunisia are the latest additions to the list, and the measure will apply to the two countries from Friday.
What quarantine measures apply to arrivals from countries that have not reported new coronavirus variants?
People coming from other countries are also required to pledge that they will abide by the quarantine protocols, but they can isolate at home or another place of their choice throughout a 14-day period.
Who can currently enter Japan?
In principle, Japanese nationals and residents with a valid residence status are allowed to re-enter Japan, albeit under certain conditions such as pre-entry testing and post-entry quarantine.
An exception is now being made for people coming from India, Bangladesh, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka due to the high number of infections with the double mutant variant in those places. Japan has banned all foreign nationals — including residents — from entering the country until further notice. However, those who left Japan before tighter restrictions were put in place will be allowed to return.
Japan temporarily relaxed its border measures for new entries last fall but tightened them once again in January after coronavirus variants were detected in the country. As Japan halted the issuance of tourist and other types of visas for short-term travel last year, it is nearly impossible for noncitizens and nonresidents to enter the country regardless of whether the traveler’s point of departure is covered by the travel restrictions.
Tourists haven’t been able to arrive throughout the pandemic, and that’s expected to remain the case for the time being.
Meanwhile, athletes participating in this year’s Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics and staff related to the games are exempt from the entry ban and the requirement to self-isolate for 14 days, regardless of their departure point.
However, all arrivals related to the Olympics will need to take COVID-19 tests on two separate days within 96 hours of their departure for Japan. During the first two weeks after their arrival, the movement of players and coaches will be restricted to locations such as practice venues. They will also be subjected to periodic COVID-19 testing, including daily saliva tests.