TOKYO -- The Japanese government will restrict the entry of all nonresident foreign nationals, halting business travel agreements reached with 11 partners including China and South Korea, in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
The suspension will start as early as Thursday as Japan's state of emergency expands beyond Greater Tokyo. It is expected to last until Feb 7.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga touched on the tighter border restrictions in a Wednesday evening news conference, referring to new COVID-19 strains found in travelers returning from the U.K. and Brazil. "Citizens are increasingly anxious, and I am taking the situation seriously," he said.
In December, the government closed the borders to nonresident foreign nationals through the end of January, but entries were still allowed under the business arrangements. Suga had said the business corridors would be "stopped immediately" if they were linked to a COVID-19 variant. But ruling and opposition parties called for all entries to be suspended regardless of whether such variants were detected.
All those who enter the country, including Japanese citizens, may have their names disclosed if they violate the request to quarantine for 14 days, the government said. Furthermore, resident foreigners could have their resident status revoked and may be subject to deportation if they do not comply with the quarantine.
Meanwhile, surging coronavirus cases have eaten into the prime minister's approval ratings.
The government last Friday announced that during the state of emergency all entrants, including Japanese, would be required to submit proof of a negative coronavirus test within 72 hours of departure. But Suga explained his reasoning for going further on Wednesday.
"I have decided to take every possible step and remove any risk in a preemptive fashion, in order to protect the lives of the Japanese people," he said. "This is why I've decided to suspend [the business entry program] temporarily while the national emergency is in effect."
Also on Wednesday, Suga said his government was indeed expanding the emergency to the western prefectures of Osaka, Hyogo and Kyoto, the central prefectures of Gifu and Aichi, which includes Nagoya, as well as the southern prefecture of Fukuoka and the eastern prefecture of Tochigi.
These areas join Tokyo and its surrounding prefectures of Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba, which entered emergency mode on Jan. 8. As in the capital region, prefectural governors will call on restaurants and bars to close by 8 p.m. and ask people to stay home after that time.
"It is the necessary measure to turn the difficult situation around," Suga said of the wider emergency. "I would like [residents] to make thorough changes to your behaviors until Feb. 7."
The prime minister argued that while Osaka and other cities had been handling COVID-19 better than Tokyo until recently, they have reached the most serious "stage four" pandemic levels. Benchmarks include the number of new confirmed cases and pressure on medical services.