Japan is considering shortening the quarantine period for those entering the country from the current seven days to three, as part of its eased COVID-19 border controls, government sources said Wednesday.
Starting in March, the government is also planning to raise the limit on the number of new entrants to 5,000 a day from the current 3,500, according to the sources. It is expected to accept foreign nationals wishing to enter Japan for non-tourism purposes within that daily limit.
The head of a COVID-19 advisory panel for the health ministry, Takaji Wakita, said Wednesday the recent surge in coronavirus infections in Japan likely "peaked" in early February even though caution is still warranted.
Japan's border controls have come under international criticism from companies to students for being too stringent as they include an entry ban on nonresident foreign nationals imposed since late November until the end of February.
Since then, only a very limited number of foreign nationals have been allowed entry as exceptions.
But Japanese government officials have lately been discussing how much the restrictions, initially designed to keep the inflow of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus to a minimum, can be relaxed.
If the envisaged change is made, self-quarantine at home or other accommodation facilities will end after people test negative for COVID-19 on the third day, the sources said.
The government may scrap the quarantine period altogether on condition that new entrants can satisfy the requirements, including having been vaccinated three times, according to the sources.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is expected to announce details on Thursday.
"We are considering how to ease the border control measures by taking into account scientific evidence that has become available regarding the Omicron strain and the changing infection situations at home and abroad," Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said at a press briefing.
Some 150,000 foreign students who hold Japan visas were unable to enter the country by the end of last year due to its COVID-19 border controls, according to the government.
The health ministry advisory panel led by infectious disease expert Wakita assessed the infection trend on Wednesday, with data showing a week-on-week fall in the number of newly confirmed COVID-19 cases in most age brackets.
But Wakita warned of a rebound unless infection numbers fall further.
"The health care system in many parts of the country is expected to remain under strain and the occupancy rate of hospital beds for patients with severe symptoms will likely go up," he said.
Currently, over two-thirds of Japan's 47 prefectures are under a quasi-state of emergency that allows their governors to request that restaurants and bars cut business hours and stop serving alcohol.
Among the 21 prefectures where the anti-virus curbs are set to end Sunday, 15 including Osaka and Fukuoka are seeking an extension, while Okinawa, Yamaguchi and Yamagata want the steps to expire as scheduled.