Japan will double the cap on overseas arrivals to 20,000 people per day starting next month as it continues to ease border controls triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, the top government spokesman said Friday.

The government will also ease COVID-19 testing and quarantine rules for people arriving in Japan, dividing countries and regions into three groups according to the infection situation.

Travelers from the lowest-risk "blue" group will be exempt from testing upon arrival in Japan and quarantining at home, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told a press conference. They will still need to show a pre-departure negative test result.

Around 80 percent of entrants are likely to be from countries and regions that fall into that group, Matsuno said, adding that the breakdowns will be announced next week.

People arriving from countries and regions placed in the highest-risk "red" group will be asked to take COVID-19 tests when they enter Japan and stay for three days at quarantine facilities.

Those in the remaining "yellow" group need to be tested for COVID-19 upon arrival and stay for three days at home or quarantine facilities, according to the government. But this does not apply to people who have received their third vaccine dose.

"We believe (the review) will make the entry of visitors smooth," he said.

Matsuno did not specify when Japan will start accepting foreign tourists again, saying only that preparations are under way to do so.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has said his government will further relax border controls to bring them in line with other Group of Seven nations in June.

The review comes as Japan has seen the infection situation stabilize in recent weeks. The government changed its stance on masks, saying Friday that wearing them when outdoors is not always necessary, provided people are not conversing.

Mask requirements have been easing overseas in line with progress in vaccinations against the virus.

The number of COVID-19 cases in Japan has been lower than in other G-7 members such as Britain, Germany, France and the United States, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

Japan effectively closed its doors to nonresident foreign nationals to prevent a surge in infections driven by the highly transmissible Omicron variant of the coronavirus late last year. The measure drew criticism at home and abroad that it was too strict.

In recent months, the government has gradually increased the number of people allowed to enter Japan in stages, with the current daily cap at 10,000.

Travelers to Britain are not required to show proof of pre-departure negative test results or take COVID-19 tests upon arrival.

Testing on arrival is not required for travelers to the United States while Germany and Italy ask incoming travelers who have not been fully vaccinated to show they tested negative for the virus prior to entry.

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