Japan to ease COVID border measures for travelers from China

TOKYO (AP) — Japan is easing its coronavirus border measures for tourists from China beginning Wednesday by testing only random passengers, a top government spokesman said Monday.

Since December, Japan has been testing all travelers from mainland China at four designated airports on grounds of surging infections in that country and a lack of information. Visitors from China are also required to show a proof of pre-boarding negative test.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told a news conference that as of Wednesday, only random testing will be carried out on passengers from China.

The change is intended to “promote smooth international travel” taking into consideration relatively low infection rates among arrivals over the past two months, Matsuno said. All samples analysed at the border were of the omicron strains, which are already found inside Japan, he said.

Proof of pre-boarding negative test will still be required, he said.

Direct flights from China, currently only allowed to land at Narita, Haneda, Chubu and Kansai, will be expanded to other airports.

China, which lifted its “zero-COVID” policy in December, retaliated for the stricter border measures imposed by Japan and South Korea by temporarily suspending short-term visas for the nationals of the two countries. China has since resumed issuing visas in Japan.

South Korea has already removed entry restrictions for short-term travelers from China since the beginning of January, as officials saw the pandemic in China being stabilized.

Japan plans to largely relax its mask-wearing requests on March 13 and leave it up to individuals. It will also downgrade COVID-19 to the equivalent of seasonal influenza in May.