Visa-free travel brings fears of COVID-19 rebound in Japan

Visitors wearing face masks walk under the screen showing promotion video for tourism in Japan, at Narita International Airport in Narita, near Tokyo on June 10, 2022. (SHUJI KAJIYAMA / AP)

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN / HANOI / SINGAPORE / MANILA / YANGON / TOKYO – Fears of a new COVID-19 wave loom in Japan as the country prepares to allow visa-free entry for individual travelers after border restrictions of more than two years.

Starting from Tuesday, individual visitors will be allowed to enter Japan and visa waivers will be reinstated from 68 countries and regions, including the United States, Australia, Singapore and South Korea.

The move scraped a series of COVID-19 border rules and entry requirements are almost back to what it was before the pandemic. Before Tuesday, Japan only allowed package tours and required visas for all visitors and set a cap on daily arrivals at 50,000.

Data showed that though Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 are still behind the majority of infections, newer Omicron subvariants had already started to gain ground in Japan

This also came as Tokyo wants to boost inbound tourism following a long winter of the industry as well as to take advantage of the weak yen, which hit a series of 24-year lows in recent weeks.

The government said visa exemption arrangements will be in line with those before the pandemic, in which a short-term stay is allowed up to 90 days with some exceptions.

Visitors will now need to show proof of either having received three COVID-19 vaccine doses or a negative test result when entering Japan.

"We will require submission of either a certificate of the third dose of a vaccine on the World Health Organization's emergency use list or a negative test certificate taken within 72 hours prior to departure abroad," Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said on Monday. This means that several jabs that Japan has not been recognizing will be accepted now.

For some time, the tourism industry and Japan's largest business lobby Keidanren have called for relaxed border measures, but Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida had remained cautious over further reopening as the public was still nervous about infections.

It is not without limitations as the Japanese government repeatedly emphasized that it will "maintain a balance" between curbing infections and promoting social and economic activity.

Data also showed that though Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 are still behind the majority of infections, newer Omicron subvariants had already started to gain ground in Japan.

That had resulted in a situation where at least 1 in 6 residents in Japan have been infected, and at least 1 in 2,770 residents have died from the coronavirus.

A recent report by Japan's National Institute of Infectious Diseases showed that apart from direct deaths due to COVID-19, the number of excess deaths in Japan in the first six months of the year reached the highest figure since the pandemic began in early 2020, and the number of deaths in Japan this year is likely to exceed that of last year due to the impact of the Omicron variant.

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Workers wearing protective suits spray disinfectant at Suri Seri Begawan Raja Pengiran Anak Damit Mosque in an effort to counter the spread of the COVID-19 in Bandar Seri Begawan in Brunei on March 17, 2020. (PHOTO / AFP)


Brunei logged a daily average of 307 new COVID-19 cases in the past week compared to 268 cases per day the week before, the Health Ministry said on Monday.

According to the ministry's weekly briefing, 38,978 Antigen Rapid Test (ART) test results were uploaded to the government platform within one week, with 5.5 percent of them being positive.

Currently, no hospitalized cases are held in intensive care unit and one case requires oxygen assistance, according to the ministry.

As of Oct 9, 78.5 percent of Brunei's population have received three doses of COVID-19 vaccines, while 10.6 percent have taken the fourth dose.


Myanmar confirmed 232 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the tally to 626,690, according to the country's Ministry of Health on Monday.

The death toll from COVID-19 in the country remained unchanged at 19,467 on Monday as no new deaths were reported, the ministry said.

A man shops for face masks in Divisoria, a local shopping district in Manila on May 17, 2022. (JAM STA ROSA / AFP)


The Philippines reported 2,106 new COVID-19 infections on Monday, pushing the number of confirmed cases in the Southeast Asian country to 3,969,987.

The Department of Health said the number of active cases dipped to 26,014, while 33 more patients died from COVID-19 complications, pushing the country's death toll to 63,297.

Metro Manila, the capital region with over 13 million people, tallied 837 new cases.

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Singapore reported 4,719 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, bringing the total tally to 1,957,916.

Of the new cases, 480 were detected through PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests and 4,239 through ART (antigen rapid test) tests, according to statistics released by the country's Ministry of Health.

Among the PCR cases, 465 were local transmissions and 15 were imported cases. Among the ART cases with mild symptoms and assessed to be of low risk, there were 4,124 local transmissions and 115 imported cases.

Three new deaths from COVID-19 were reported on Monday, bringing the total death toll to 1,632.

Passengers wait for transportation outside the arrival hall of Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi on March 15, 2022, as Vietnam announced the return of a visa exemption policy for 13 countries in an effort to kickstart its tourism sector. (NHAC NGUYEN / AFP)


Vietnam recorded 1,045 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, up 674 from Sunday, according to the Ministry of Health.

All the new cases were locally transmitted, said the ministry.

The newly reported infections brought the total tally to 11,487,459. The country reported no new deaths from the pandemic on Monday, with the total fatalities staying at 43,153.

As of Monday, there were 77 severe cases in need of assisted breathing in the Southeast Asian country, according to the ministry