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Japan limits foreign airlines to 100 passengers per flight

Border clampdown restricts domestic carriers to 3,400 arrivals per week

A cabin of an Eva Air Boeing 777-300ER. Japan has asked airlines to slash the number of passengers they bring into the country from overseas. (Photo by Melvin Loi)

TOKYO -- The Japanese government has asked airlines to slash the number of passengers they bring into the country from overseas during the typically busy fiscal year-end travel period, amid concern about the spread of new coronavirus variants.

The transport ministry has told domestic carriers to limit arrivals to 3,400 per week, while foreign airlines are restricted to 100 per flight.

This marks a return to the sort of strict caps seen last April, in the early days of the pandemic, after a gradual loosening that had recently allowed domestic airlines to bring in a total of 3,000 flyers per day at Narita and Haneda airports. Non-Japanese carriers had been permitted 300 to passengers per flight.

The tighter limits are in response to the emergence of more contagious variants of the virus around the world.

The government is requiring all travelers from countries where new variants have been confirmed to self-isolate at designated facilities for three days. With these facilities growing tight on capacity, the transport ministry notified airlines of the new caps Monday at the health ministry's request.

The change aims to "ensure that quarantine measures are properly carried out," Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told a news conference Wednesday.

Japan Airlines has suspended all arrivals in Japan from France, the U.K. and Germany until the end of March, aside from transfers passing through the country.

All Nippon Airways has stopped taking new reservations for international flights arriving in Japan between March 8 and March 21, and has said it may continue doing so after that period. Low-cost carrier Peach Aviation -- which, like ANA, is a subsidiary of ANA Holdings -- has stopped accepting reservations for one flight each between Taiwan to Kansai International Airport and Narita.

JAL reported 26,041 passengers on international flights in February, while ANA had 45,572 in January. A prolonged cut to traffic could weigh heavily on carriers already facing a tough environment.

The clampdown could also pose problems for other Japanese businesses.

Many companies, such as Nissan Motor, say they should not be significantly affected as they have largely banned business trips abroad. But the transition into the new fiscal year from late March into April often brings major personnel transfers and reshuffles that could be hampered by travel restrictions.

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