In a surprising move, the government of Japan told airlines to close reservations for inbound fights to Japan for the next month due to growing concerns over the omicron COVID-19 variant. But after facing pushback from returning Japanese citizens, the nation has opted for limiting the number of foreign arrivals versus an outright ban on new reservations.
Japan Tells Airlines To Block All New Reservations To Japan
Under the original plan, people with existing bookings would have been able to fly to Japan, but new reservations would have been closed off for a period of 30 days. Characterized as a request rather than a mandate, the move applied to Japanese and foreign airlines. Both All Nippon Airways (ANA) and Japan Air Lines (JAL) said they would comply.
The Transportation Ministry called this an “an emergency measure” after a second omicron case was discovered in Japan from a man returning from Peru. The first confirmed case was a diplomat from Namibia. Using contact tracing, Japan has placed 114 individuals thought to have been in close contact with the two positive cases into a “government-designated” quarantine facility.
Already, Japan has banned all foreign inbound travel and even banned returning foreign residents if they have recently visited:
- Eswatini (Swaziland)
- South Africa
That ban lasts for one month. Japanese nationals are exempt, but must quarantine in a government-designated facility for 10 days, followed by four more days at home, if they have visited one of the 10 countries above.
Other foreigners are simply not allowed in Japan, regardless of origin.
During a news conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said:
“From the view of prevention, we won’t just restrict new entry by foreigners but also returning foreigners with resident status, unless there are special extenuating circumstances.”
Behind this backdrop, scientists are still studying the new variant in an attempt to ascertain its severity, spreadability, and potential resistance to vaccines.
After Pushback, Japan Drops Order
Overnight, however, Japan loosened its inbound flight restrictions after the government faced pushback from Japanese wishing to return from overseas. Instead of a ban on new reservations, Japan will now limit the number of international entries to 3,500 passengers per day (down from 5,000 in November).
Once again, carriers can take new reservations. Airlines have been asked to “give sufficient consideration to the needs of returning Japanese nationals,” according to Matsuno.
Japan is moving rapidly to close its borders only weeks after gradually re-opening them for the first time in over a year, but will not close completely. After banning new reservations, it is again possible to book flights to or via Japan. Currently, those holding confirmed reservations can still travel through Japan, even via transit. You can view my transit guide here.