TOKYO -- Japan has begun preparing to allow long-term foreign residents to return to the country in September, Nikkei has learned, after facing criticism as the only Group of Seven economy to restrict their entry as a measure to prevent coronavirus infection.
A decision will be made soon by the government's coronavirus task force. Returnees will be required to take a polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, test and self-quarantine for 14 days -- the same rules that apply to Japanese nationals.
The change in stance comes after Japan's efforts to block the spread of the coronavirus left long-term residents unable to return to their families, careers or studies after traveling outside the country, save for exceptional cases. Tokyo has faced international calls to ease its reentry restrictions.
The problem has "a major impact" on both the European and Japanese economies, said Michael Mroczek, president of the European Business Council in Japan.
As of Friday, Japan blocked entry by non-nationals traveling from 146 countries and regions, including the U.S., China, South Korea and European Union nations.
About 2.6 million foreigners have long-term residency status in Japan. They include company CEOs, trainees from developing countries and exchange students.
Nearly 200,000 of them were thought to be traveling outside Japan as of mid-August. Of that number, about 30,000 left the country after the restrictions were put in place. The proposed easing of reentry rules would let long-term residents depart and return as long as they abide by the quarantine requirements.
A July survey of 401 companies by the European Business Council in Japan found that 86% felt burdened by the ban. A quarter of respondents said the rule affected their ability to start or maintain operations, or led to lower sales.
In some cases, companies have been unable to move forward with projects because engineers cannot return to Japan, Mroczek said.
But even as long-term residents are allowed to return, Japan will maintain restrictions on new entries from countries on its list.
Japan is also moving to restart business travel with countries where coronavirus cases are ebbing, such as Singapore. Long-term foreign residents in Japan have been allowed to go to and return from Thailand and Vietnam for business purposes after undergoing a test upon arrival and a two-week self-quarantine and a similar arrangement is in the works with Malaysia. Japan is also discussing travel corridors with China, South Korea and Taiwan.
The reopening is accompanied by steps to increase coronavirus testing and other precautions at airports. Japan plans to open PCR testing centers at the Tokyo area's Narita and Haneda airports and Osaka's Kansai in September. That will raise testing capacity by 150% to 10,000 travelers a day.