Japan on Friday, December 30, 2022 started requiring COVID-19 tests for all passengers arriving from China as an emergency measure against surging COVID infections.
According to the Health Ministry, Japan reported a record 420 new coronavirus deaths on Thursday, December 29, 2022.
The numbers are higher than the daily deaths at the peak of an earlier wave in August, when they exceeded 300.
Experts say the reason for the latest increase is unclear but could be linked to worsening chronic illnesses among older patients.
Japan has put the tightened border measures it announced earlier in the week, into effect.
The antigen test that was already conducted on entrants suspected of having COVID-19 is now compulsory for all people arriving from mainland China.
Those who test positive will be quarantined for up to seven days at designated facilities and their samples will be used for genome analysis.
The measures began ahead of the New Year’s holidays marked by travel and parties. Direct flights between China and Japan will be limited to four major Japanese airports for now, government officials said.
Flights from Hong Kong and Macao will be allowed to land at three other airports; New Chitose Airport in Hokkaido, Naha Airport in Okinawa and Fukuoka Airport, provided there are no passengers who have been to mainland China within seven days prior to the flight.
Hong Kong authorities called the restrictions “unreasonable” and requested Japanese authorities to withdraw them.
Prior to adding the three airports for flights from Hong Kong and Macao, authorities said that 60,000 travelers and some 250 flights would be affected between December and January.
Hong Kong tour operators are scrambling to rearrange flights for their customers to minimize losses. Steve Huen Kwok-chuen, Executive Director of travel agency, EGL Tours, said his company was forced to cancel some tours after Japan initially decided to limit flights from Hong Kong to land at just four Japanese airports.
“After enduring for three years, we thought there would be some silver lining but the restrictions made us suffer some business losses.”Steve Huen Kwok-chuen
Japan earlier this year stopped requiring COVID-19 tests for entrants who had at least three shots as part of the country’s careful easing of measures after virtually closing its borders to foreign tourists for about two years.
This year’s holiday season is the first without virus restrictions other than recommendations for mask wearing and testing.
China recently reversed its anti-virus controls that kept the country in isolation for nearly three years and announced this week plans to reissue passports and visas for overseas trips.
This could send many Chinese abroad for the Lunar New Year holiday in January, raising concerns about possible virus spread.
China Continues To Monitor The Virus Mutations
Also on Friday, December 30, 2022, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson, Wang Wenbin, disclosed that China continues to monitor the virus mutations and share information, and stressed the importance of science-based approach.
“We hope Japan can view China’s COVID situation and adjustment to our response policy in a correct and objective manner and take science-based and proportionate measures to ensure normal cross-border exchange between the two peoples.”Wang Wenbin
World Health Organization Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has opined that the organization needs more information on the severity of the outbreak in China.
The Director-General tweeted, “In the absence of comprehensive information from China, it is understandable that countries around the world are acting in ways that they believe may protect their populations.”
“In order to make a comprehensive risk assessment of the COVID-19 situation on the ground in China, WHO needs more detailed information,” he added.