By Elaine Lies
TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan is set to loosen border controls to allow more people to enter the country, especially students, while extending infection control measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus in several areas, including Tokyo.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will raise the number of people who can enter Japan to 7,000 a day from 5,000 at present, while students will be exempted from the daily intake and considered in a separate category, media reports said.
The move will extend an easing of the country’s strict border measures earlier this week that opened the doors to more students and foreign workers amid criticism from business leaders and educators.
Kishida is set to announce the new measures, along with an extended coronavirus quasi-emergency, at a news conference at 7:00 p.m. local time (1000 GMT).
Some 150,000 foreign students have been kept out of Japan since 2020, along with workers desperately needed by an ageing nation with a shrinking population, prompting warnings of labour shortages and damage to Japan’s international reputation.
While the number of new coronavirus cases has started to fall, hospitals remain under stress as they battle the Omicron variant of COVID-19. February was also the deadliest month of the pandemic so far, with 4,856 fatalities, a tally by national broadcaster NHK showed.
The central government has received requests from five prefectures, including Kyoto and Osaka in western Japan, to extend infection control measures set to expire on Sunday, chief cabinet secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said on Wednesday.
Ten other prefectures, including Tokyo, are expected to seek an extension of two to three weeks of measures that include shorter business hours for restaurants and limits on alcohol sales, local media reported.
Kishida is also expected to address the issue of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Japan has joined with overseas allies to slap sanctions on Russia, and Kishida said on Wednesday the country is also ready to take in Ukrainian refugees.
Separately, discount Japanese retailer Pan Pacific International, formerly Don Quijote Holdings, said on Thursday it would accept 100 refugee families from Ukraine. It did not provide any further details.
(Reporting by Elaine Lies; editing by Richard Pullin)