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Editorial: About-face on airline bookings deepens distrust in government

  • December 4, 2021
  • , The Asahi Shimbun , 1:40 p.m.
  • English Press

The government’s retraction of its request to airlines to stop accepting reservations for international flights to Japan is worthy of harsh criticism.


It offers a good reason to say the Kishida administration has failed in its duty to protect the Japanese people.


As part of efforts to prevent a spread of the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus, the transport ministry issued a request to all airlines Nov. 29 to stop taking new reservations for flights to Japan until the end of December.


The request stirred an outcry among Japanese living overseas and companies with employees on overseas business trips or who are stationed abroad, prompting the ministry to immediately retract it.


This U-turn undermined the administration’s credibility.


Surprisingly, both Kishida and transport minister Tetsuo Saito said they were not informed of the ministry’s decision, which could be at odds with the principle of freedom of movement guaranteed by the Constitution.


If that is really the case, Kishida should offer a detailed explanation about how this slip-up happened and what caused it. He also owes the public an apology.


He said the blunder “caused confusion among some people.” But he should not simply let it pass with that.


In response to the emergence of the Omicron variant, the government decided Nov. 29 to reduce the daily quota of arrivals from 5,000 to 3,500.


The transport ministry is said to have made the request to airlines in line with this decision.


But it did not discuss the matter with the Foreign Ministry, which is in charge of protecting Japanese nationals abroad. Nor did it report the decision swiftly to a council presided by the chief Cabinet secretary to discuss border control measures in general.


The fiasco raised serious questions about the government’s decision-making process.


Since the quota of arrivals is closely related to international passenger flight operations, it is vital for the ministry to coordinate with airlines when taking policy actions.


Still, the ministry surely could have imagined the impact of its request for an unprecedented one-month suspension of taking flight bookings just before the yearend and New Year holidays.


Not even during the height of the COVID-19 crisis since last year had such a request been issued.


The airlines obviously had no choice but to heed the request from the regulatory authorities.


Bureaucrats at the ministry seem to be somewhat oblivious to the fact their daily work is based on enormous regulatory power.


All those involved should take this opportunity to reflect on their conduct.


Even though the request has been dropped, the 3,500 entry quota remains in place.


The government needs to continue considering what steps it will need to take while staying updated on the movements of people wishing to enter Japan and keeping an eye on the scope of the spread of the Omicron variant and the results of studies on the strain.


The government also took questionable action in connection with the variant.


On Dec. 2, the government slapped a ban on the re-entry of nationals of 10 countries, including South Africa, where Omicron was first identified, even if they possessed long-term resident visas.


While there may be good reasons for temporarily blocking the entry of foreign visitors, it is wrong to bar the re-entry of foreign nationals who live or work in Japan and have family and social security entitlements.


The government should immediately withdraw the measure and declare that such a step will not be taken again.


The reasonable way to handle this matter is to treat foreign residents in this category equally as Japanese nationals.


The government should allow them entry after they undergo testing and self-quarantine upon arrival.


Unreasonably discriminatory treatment not only causes unfair pain to targeted people but also damages Japan’s international reputation.


–The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 4

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