Japan Scraps COVID Border Measures as ‘Golden Week’ Holiday Rush Begins

Japan Scraps COVID Border Measures as ‘Golden Week’ Holiday Rush Begins
People queue to buy tickets into the city after their arrival at the international terminal of Tokyo's Haneda Airport on Oct.11, 2022. (Richard A. Brooks/AFP via Getty Images)

Japan has lifted its COVID-19 border measures, allowing all arrivals to enter the country without showing proof of vaccination or negative test results, as the country’s “golden week” holiday began.

Golden week is one of Japan’s busiest travel times from April 29 to May 5, with four national holidays falling within the same week. Japan is anticipating an influx of tourists during this period.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced on Saturday that Japan no longer requires visitors to submit vaccination records or negative COVID-19 test results within 72 hours of their departure.

Japan also scrapped its random testing requirement for visitors from China, which was put in place earlier this year after a surge of COVID-19 cases in China when the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) abruptly lifted its “zero-COVID” measures.

The ministry said the random testing requirement will be replaced by testing on arrival for those who show symptoms, which is the same measure applied to all other travelers.

Local media said the government initially planned to scrap the border controls on May 8, the same day as COVID-19’s status will be downgraded but later decided to bring the plan forward due to the golden week.

Japan also ended its mask-wearing rules in March.

Japan Formally Downgrading COVID-19 Status

COVID-19 is currently classified as a special category that is “equivalent to or stricter than Class 2” disease in Japan, which is subject to strict measures like restrictions on the movement of infected individuals and their close contacts.

The Health Ministry said on Thursday that COVID-19’s status will be downgraded to a Class 5 disease on May 8. This will result in the disease being treated similarly to seasonal flu, and quarantine rules will be eliminated.

“Special measures that the government has been taking in response to the novel coronavirus will end on May 7,” Health Minister Katsunobu Kato told reporters, according to Kyodo News.

The expert panel approved the decision to downgrade COVID-19, citing the preparedness of the country’s healthcare system for a resurgence. They said that Japan has around 8,400 medical institutions that can accommodate up to 58,000 COVID patients.

Ninth Wave of COVID-19

Infectious disease experts had earlier warned that Japan could face a “ninth wave” of COVID-19 infections or one “larger than the eighth wave,” Kyodo News reported.

At an advisory panel meeting on April 19, Kato said there was an increase in the number of cases linked to the XBB.1.5 Omicron subvariant.

“There is a possibility that infections will spread toward this summer,” Kato said. Japan reported 13,094 new cases on Wednesday.

The expert panel warned that Japan’s mortality rate could be higher than other nations due to its aging population and advised the government to adopt measures to control the spread of the virus.

“We need to continue to take measures for the elderly, who are at high risk of dying [from the virus], and those with underlying diseases,” they said.

XBB is a recombinant of two subvariants that descended from the Omicron BA.2 subvariant. This means that genetic data from two versions of the virus that descended from BA.2 that had infected a person at the same time, combined during the viral replication process to form the new XBB subvariant.

Japanese researchers said in a paper posted to the preprint server bioRxiv on Dec. 27, 2022, that their findings suggest XBB is the “first documented SARS-CoV-2 variant increasing its fitness through recombination rather than single mutations.”

The researchers also said their results suggest that XBB is “highly transmissible” and highly resistant to the immunity that was induced by people having had breakthrough infections of the previous Omicron subvariants.

Naveen Athrappully and Mimi Nguyen Ly contributed to this report.

From The Epoch Times

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