By MARI YAMAGUCHI, Associated Press
TOKYO — Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced Tuesday that Japan will tighten border controls for COVID-19 by requiring tests for all visitors from China starting Friday as a temporary emergency measure against the surging infections there.
The announcement comes days after the World Health Organization said it was very concerned about rising reports of severe cases across China after the country largely abandoned its “zero-COVID” policy.
The quantitative antigen test that is already conducted on entrants suspected of having COVID-19 will be mandatory for all people arriving from mainland China. Those who test positive will be quarantined for seven days at designated facilities and their samples will be used for genome analysis.
The measure begins Friday, just as Japan heads into New Year’s holidays marked by parties and travel, when infections are expected to rise.
Last week India also mandated a COVID-19 test for travelers from China, Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea and Thailand, while ordering quarantine for those with symptoms or testing positive. India has also begun randomly testing 2% of international passengers arriving at aiports.
Kishida said China’s lack of information and transparency about the infections made it difficult to assess and figure out safety measures. There are huge discrepancies between information from central and local authorities, and between the government and private organizations, he said.
“There are growing worries in Japan,” Kishida said. “We have decided to take a temporary special measure to respond to the situation.”
Despite widespread outbreaks that are straining medical resources and disrupting businesses, China on Monday said that passengers arriving from abroad will no longer have to quarantine starting Jan. 8, though a negative test result within 48 hours of departure and in-flight masks are still required.
China has been “refining our COVID response in light of the evolving situation” while working with the global community, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperon Wang Wenbin said Tuesday.
In a nuanced criticism to tightening of border measures by Japan and India, Wang said: “China believes that the pandemic measures should be science-based and appropriate and should not affect normal personnel exchanges.”
Japan’s new measure aims to “prevent rapid increase of infections in this country” and is not intended to stop global movement of people, Kishida said. Japan will act flexibly while watching the development in China, he added, including halting the planned increase of flights between Japan and China “just to be safe.”
Direct flights between the two countries will be limited to four major Japanese airports for the time being, government officials said.
“The measure is not going to affect Japan’s policy to continue with our ongoing transition toward a ‘with-COVID’ lifestyle carefully and steadily while watching the infections at home,” Kishida said.
Japan earlier this year stopped requiring COVID-19 tests for entrants who had at least three shots — part of the country’s careful easing of measures after virtually closing its borders to foreign tourists for about two years.
Associated Press video producer Liu Zheng in Beijing contributed to this report.