TOKYO — Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Wednesday announced plans to ease border controls from early September by eliminating requirements for pre-departure COVID-19 tests for travelers who have received at least three vaccine doses, and he will also consider increasing daily entry caps as soon as next month.
Japan, which has imposed some of the toughest border measures for the coronavirus, currently requires negative PCR test results within 72 hours of departure for all entrants, a practice that has been criticized as cumbersome.
Kishida, after holding virtual meetings with government ministers and medical advisors earlier Wednesday, told reporters in an online news conference that entrants who have received at least one booster vaccine can waive the pre-entry test beginning Sept. 7.
"We plan to gradually ease border controls to allow entry procedures to be as smooth as those of other Group of Seven countries," Kishida said from his official residence, where he has been on duty while isolating after testing positive for COVID-19 on Sunday.
Kishida said his government also plans to increase the daily cap for incoming travelers, currently set at 20,000, "as soon as possible." Media reports say the government is considering more than doubling the daily cap to 50,000 as early as next month.
"Our fight against the virus is not easy, but we should not be too afraid and instead take into consideration the characteristics of the omicron variant," Kishida said. "We will speed up our responses while balancing the infection measures and social and economic activities as much as possible."
Kishida said Japan plans to shorten the self-isolation period for COVID-19 patients from the current 10 days for those with symptoms and one week for those without symptoms. Officials are finalizing those details, he said.
In June, Japan partially opened its borders to foreign tourists for the first time in two years but only allowing those who agree to join package tours with guides. The number of entrants has dwindled under those restrictions.
Business organizations in and outside Japan have called for the country to ease its border controls to support the economy, especially the tourism industry, which has been badly hurt by the pandemic. But many Japanese are wary of further easing border measures because the country has been struggling with a seventh wave of infections.
Clinics have been flooded with patients with mild symptoms such as fever, sore throat and coughs, amid a lack of testing and test kits at pharmacies and online.