Japan plans to ease travel restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus for foreign travelers from around the world, excluding tourists, beginning in October, government sources said Wednesday.
The government is considering allowing about 1,000 foreigners to enter the country each day mainly for stays of three months or longer, with increased virus testing capacity at airports to accommodate them, the sources said.
Currently, Japan is imposing an entry ban for 159 countries and regions. Foreigners who have been to the areas within 14 days of their arrival are being turned away, with some exceptions.
The government has begun gradually rolling back the travel restrictions, with foreigners with resident status in Japan who had traveled outside the country being allowed back in from September.
Businesspeople have already been allowed to come from some Asian countries including Vietnam and Thailand if they meet certain conditions, including providing negative COVID-19 test results, and foreign students on government grants can also enter the country.
According to the sources, the government plans to greatly expand the scope of people who are exempt from the entry ban from October, with foreign students who are not on government grants, medical staff and those participating in cultural activities among those to be allowed in.
The move roughly coincides the start of the fall semester at Japanese universities and comes ahead of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, which were slated to take place this summer but have been postponed to next year due to the global pandemic of the virus.
As the number of new cases of the virus has been trending downward in recent weeks, it also reflects Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's focus to kick-start economic activity.
A panel consisting of members from Suga's administration, the Tokyo metropolitan government and the games organizing committee on Wednesday confirmed that athletes would be allowed to enter the country to train and compete in the event, albeit with precautions against spreading the virus.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato, the government's top spokesman, said Japan has so far managed to partially resume travel without triggering a resurgence in coronavirus infections, and that "serious consideration" will be put into easing the restrictions further.
Japan has seen more than 80,000 infections with a death toll of over 1,500, significantly less than hard-hit countries such as the United States, which is nearing 7 million infections.
The government has been ramping up the number of polymerase chain reaction tests that can be administered at Japan's three largest airports -- Narita and Haneda, serving Tokyo, and Kansai, serving Osaka -- and will now shift its focus to New Chitose near Sapporo, Chubu near Nagoya, and Fukuoka airport.