Japan will end the current border control measures on travelers from overseas on May 8 in line with its decision to categorize COVID-19 as a common disease the same day, the government said Monday, in a major shift toward normalizing social and economic activities.
The government will simultaneously start a new genomic surveillance program, under which entrants with symptoms such as fever are tested voluntarily, with the aim of detecting new infectious diseases.
Currently, all entrants are required to present certification of three COVID-19 doses or a negative coronavirus test taken within 72 hours of departure.
The end of the COVID-19 border controls, first introduced in February 2020 and considered by some the most stringent among the Group of Seven industrialized nations, is expected to help revive inbound tourism to Japan, where spending by foreign visitors in 2021 plunged to a fraction of the record 4.8 trillion yen ($36 billion) in 2019.
In November 2021, Japan tightened border controls by barring the entry of nonresident foreigners and requiring returning Japanese nationals and foreign residents to quarantine at designated facilities as the country began seeing cases of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
Initially implemented for a month, the control measures were later extended, sparking protests from foreign exchange students and business people. The country started gradually easing the daily entry cap in March 2022 before completely lifting it in October of that year.
Travelers arriving at five major airports -- Narita, Haneda, Chubu, Kansai and Fukuoka -- will be subject to the new framework, which is set to start when the legal status of COVID-19 is downgraded to the same category as seasonal influenza early next month.
It takes about a few weeks for genomic test takers to get the results, according to government officials.
Ahead of the across-the-board lifting of border control measures, Japan will ease those on all arrivals from mainland China from Wednesday and give them the option of entering the country by presenting proof of being inoculated with three doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Currently, visitors from mainland China must present proof of a negative coronavirus test taken 72 hours or less before departure.
"We have decided to alter the tentative measures currently in place in light of the infection status at home and abroad, as well as border control steps taken by other Group of Seven nations," Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said in a news conference, adding the government will continue its sample testing for arrivals from mainland China at airports.
In late December, Japan introduced blanket COVID-19 testing for all arrivals from mainland China amid an explosion in infections in the country after Beijing drastically relaxed its stringent "zero-COVID" policy that had involved lockdowns and quarantines.
In early January, it further tightened border controls for visitors from the region by requiring proof of a negative test.
In March, however, the Japanese government ended the blanket testing for such visitors but started random testing at airports after finding that the number of those testing positive for COVID-19 had dropped.