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Coronavirus

Japan to tighten foreigner entry exemptions to curb omicron spread

Officials look to narrow who falls under 'public interest'

A notice about COVID-19 safety measures is pictured next to closed doors at a departure hall of Narita Airport near Tokyo on Tuesday.    © Reuters

TOKYO -- Japan will tighten the criteria under which some foreign nationals are exempted from entry restrictions, as part of the government's effort to limit the spread of the omicron COVID-19 variant, Nikkei has learned.

Officials are working to narrow the scope of the exemptions. The exemptions currently allow events such as concerts by foreign artists to take place.

Since Tuesday, Japan has, in principle, barred foreign nationals from entering the country. But it makes exceptions for people in "special circumstances," including those with Japanese family members, medical and diplomatic personnel, and those entering for humanitarian or public-interest reasons.

Ministries and agencies decide what constitutes the "public interest." In the past, this definition allowed entry by people involved in events such as concerts, sports and the arts. Athletes and staff participating in the Tokyo Olympics this summer entered Japan based on this exemption.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party has indicated the waiver is too broad. There is also a proposal to review the reduced waiting period for important individuals to enter Japan.

There were 10,999 new entries by foreign nationals in October. In July, when the opening ceremony of the Olympics took place, there were 47,126.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, at a meeting on Tuesday with relevant ministers, instructed the government to take steps to keep the omicron variant out of the country. That evening, four more countries, including Sweden, were added to the list of locations from which individuals are required to quarantine at designated facilities after arrival in Japan. At present, 27 countries and regions are subject to the tougher measures.

The government decided on Nov. 26 to implement the tougher steps for people arriving from South Africa and six other countries. Additional steps are being put in place in light of the spread of the omicron variant.

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