Foreign residents of Japan breathe sigh of relief on latest coronavirus measures
With coronavirus infections persisting in Japan , Frenchman Eric Fior, who owns a language school in Yokohama, decided several months ago to scrap all plans for a year-end overseas holiday.
“It became quite clear even in the spring that this thing was not going to be over in a couple of months and so I took a summer holiday here in Japan and I’m just spending time with my family over Christmas and New Year,” he said.
While he and other foreign nationals holding work permits in Japan have decided to stay put, they were relieved that the government’s announcement on Monday to tighten entry restrictions for all non-Japanese citizens did not penalise foreigners with valid residency in this nation of 126 million.
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Back in early April, as cases rose, Tokyo banned all non-citizens from entering the country. The restrictions were kept until September, meaning that around 100,000 foreign nationals with permanent residency in Japan – most holding full-time jobs and many with families – could not re-enter the country if they left for whatever reason.
It was one of the most drastic steps taken by any national government and was roundly criticised at the time, including in business circles, where it was pointed out that foreign executives in industries that are key to the Japanese economy may very well think twice about living in a country where they are effectively being discriminated against.
The move also seemed to fuel growing hostility towards gaijin, the pejorative word that means “outsiders”, with foreigners citing anecdotal accounts of facing discrimination due to the coronavirus.
Said Fior: “There was no reason for foreigners to be treated differently from Japanese, who were also arriving here from other countries and were simply allowed to get on trains or buses and go home.”
This time round, as a result of virulent new strains of the virus emerging in Britain and South Africa, Japan has closed its borders to nationals of most countries except its citizens and foreigners with permanent resident status.
Anyone planning to travel to Japan from a country where the new strain has been confirmed – a number that is growing daily – is required to provide a negative virus test within 72 hours of departure and undergo an additional test upon arrival.
Arrivals are also required to self-isolate for 14 days and are not permitted to use any form of public transport, while travellers from Britain or South Africa must self-isolate at a designated medical facility for three days and undergo coronavirus tests. If after that period they are negative for the virus then they are able to complete the remaining 11 days of quarantine elsewhere.
The new requirements will be in place until the end of January but could be extended.
There is also a provision that allows businesspeople and students from 10 other places in Asia – including Hong Kong, Macau, China, South Korea, Vietnam and Taiwan – to be treated as a foreigner with permanent resident status, due to bilateral arrangements their governments signed with Tokyo earlier in the pandemic.
The new rules take effect as worries grow about a surge in cases, after a daily record of more than 1,300 new infections in the capital Tokyo on Thursday, where the number of infections in December exceeded 19,200, nearly double the cases confirmed in November.
The Tokyo city government has asked bars and restaurants to close earlier, while Governor Yuriko Koike implored people to skip countdown ceremonies and urged them to not go shopping in crowded areas.
Elsewhere in Japan, local governments have called off events with providers reducing extra train services. The cold weather has also put a damper on celebrations, with snow blanketing parts of the country, leading to about 140 cancelled flights and other disruptions.
Japan’s Imperial Household Agency cancelled an annual New Year’s event set for Saturday, at which Emperor Naruhito and other imperial family members were to greet well-wishers, because of the pandemic. In a New Year’s Day speech shared by video on Friday, Naruhito thanked frontline health care workers and said he was worried about the discrimination faced by them and others who had been infected with Covid-19.
Tahir Abbas, a Pakistani professor who lives in Beppu in Kyushu, said that the situation where he lived was less severe but that he believed the government was taking the right steps to manage the pandemic.
“Some people will complain about the restrictions, but I feel that we have to think beyond any personal inconvenience and think about those around us, our children and the wider society,” he said.
Abbas, who has lived in Japan since 2001 and was previously able to make regular trips back to Lahore in Pakistan, added that he had hoped to return at least once this year – either in March or over the New Year – but accepted it would be impossible.
“These are unprecedented times,” he said. “But all the people I have spoken to believe that the authorities are doing the best they can and that it is up to us, the public, to follow the rules and just get through this situation as soon as possible.”
Additional reporting by Reuters, Kyodo
This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.
Copyright (c) 2021. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.
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