Japan begins coronavirus travel curbs for China, South Korea

09, Mar. 2020

TOKYO, Kyodo - Japan on Monday adopted tougher border control measures to prevent a surge in new coronavirus infections, with a 14-day voluntary quarantine of all travelers from virus-hit China and South Korea and nearly 3 million visas invalidated.

Japan is scrambling to contain COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus months before the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics this summer, after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe faced a barrage of criticism for his belated response.

(Chinese tourists wear masks in Tokyo on Jan. 26, 2020.)
(Chinese tourists wear masks in Tokyo on Jan. 26, 2020.)

Of the roughly 3 million visas invalidated, about 2.8 million are for Chinese and about 17,000 for South Koreans, according to the Foreign Ministry. A visa-waiver program covering short stays by tourists from South Korea, Hong Kong and Macau has also been suspended.

The viral outbreak that originated in the central Chinese city of Wuhan has spread globally with over 100,000 infections confirmed so far. China has more than 80,000 confirmed cases of infection, by far the largest, and South Korea over 7,000.

The travel curbs, effective Monday to the end of March, will likely deal a blow to the Japanese economy as visitors from China and South Korea account for about half of all inbound tourists to Japan and have helped revitalize regional economies.

People entering Japan from the two neighboring countries, including Japanese nationals, will be asked to stay in designated facilities such as hotels for 14 days. Japanese can stay at home.

The quarantine is not mandatory but a request, according to Japanese government officials. Each individual needs to pay accommodation and transportation fees during the 14-day period.

Abe has asked airline companies to use only two airports, Narita airport, east of Tokyo, and Kansai airport in Osaka Prefecture, for flights from China and South Korea.

The new measures were announced shortly after Chinese President Xi Jinping's state visit to Japan, initially slated for April, was postponed, raising speculation that they were timed.

South Korea immediately criticized Japan's measures, with its foreign minister calling it "unfair" and "unscientific." It has struck back with similar steps against Japan, underscoring rocky bilateral relations due to territorial and historical disputes.

Opposition party lawmakers in Japan question whether such measures are effective as the number of cases in Japan has topped 1,000 and small groups or clusters have appeared in various parts of the country. The number includes about 700 from the Diamond Princess cruise ship that was put under a 14-day quarantine near Tokyo. (Kyodo)