Japan will no longer require incoming travelers to show a pre-departure negative COVID-19 test result starting on Sept. 7, provided they have been vaccinated three times, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Wednesday.
The government will soon decide whether to raise the daily entry cap on travelers, currently set at 20,000, Kishida said, as Japan aims to further relax its coronavirus border control steps, often criticized for being too stringent, in line with other Group of Seven major economies.
Currently, those who wish to enter Japan must show proof of a negative COVID test taken within 72 hours of departure.
Kishida also said the government will change the detailed coronavirus reporting system, limiting the target to elderly people and those at risk of developing severe symptoms at the discretion of each municipality hit by surging COVID-19 infections. The total number of daily positive cases will still be reported.
The review is part of the government's efforts to reduce the burden on hospitals and local health centers as the Omicron strain has driven cases sharply higher and left the medical system stretched thin.
"The battle against the virus is not easy, but we should not be overly worried," Kishida told reporters virtually as he has been working remotely this week after testing positive for the novel coronavirus.
"We will take into consideration the characteristics of the changing Omicron variant and accelerate efforts to take antivirus measures while keeping social and economic activity going as much as possible," he added.
The current 20,000 cap on new arrivals was set in June, having been raised from 10,000. The limit includes Japanese citizens returning from overseas.
Japan has also opened its doors again to foreign tourists, though they need to be on package tours.
Before the pandemic, Japan had around 32 million foreign visitors in 2019 but the number plunged to around 246,000 in 2021.
Possible other changes to the government's COVID-19 response measures may include shortening the isolation period for those who have tested positive for COVID-19, from the current 10 days in principle to a week, government sources said.
The government is also considering recategorizing COVID-19 similarly to the seasonal flu if its severity lessens, according to the sources.
Under Japan's infection laws, the virus is treated in a way that authorizes the widest range of countermeasures, including requests for the patients to stay at home.
Medical facilities in Japan are currently required to report details on those who have tested positive, including their names and birthdays, by entering the data into a system shared with public health centers.
But with the prevalent Omicron variant having less risk of causing severe illness compared with previous strains, some government officials have questioned the need to log every case.
Moving forward, infection trends will be monitored by reporting only those hospitalized or at high risk, with doctors no longer required to log patients who are young and at low risk of developing severe symptoms.
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