Japan’s travel ban spells anguish for foreigners, businesses

aljazeera.com -- Dec 03
Since Monday, all non-resident foreigners have been banned, reversing an easing of restrictions for business travellers and foreign students weeks after it was introduced.

Authorities also briefly banned all inbound flight bookings before doing a U-turn on Thursday amid concerns it would prevent Japanese nationals from returning home. Mandatory quarantine has been extended to 14 days for returning residents, irrespective of vaccination status.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida described the restrictions as “temporary, exceptional measures that we are taking for safety’s sake until there is clearer information about the Omicron variant.”

The tough response has been praised by some pundits as Kishida’s most decisive move since taking office, offering the new leader a potential boost among a voter base not entirely convinced of his ability to lead.

But others see Japan retreating into “Sakoku” thinking – mirroring the country’s policy of isolation between the 17th and 19th centuries. As other G7 nations rolled back restrictions throughout 2021 amid rising vaccination rates, Japan kept tight control of its borders despite suffering fewer than 19,000 COVID-19 deaths and vaccinating more than 75 percent of its total population.

Border controls during early waves of the virus drew criticism for singling out foreigners, while several cases arose of officials attributing – either directly or indirectly – the spread of infections to non-natives.

The Itako Health Center in Ibaraki Prefecture gained notoriety among foreign residents earlier this year when it sent out a document urging the community to be aware there were “many patients infected with COVID that likely caught it from foreigners”.

Last year, Taro Aso, a former prime minister, made headlines when he applauded the Japanese people’s “mindo”, or cultural values, for overcoming the first wave of the virus.