Japan to lift all COVID restrictions

(Kyodo News via AP)

Anyone who followed the saga of Japan’s journey through both the COVID plague and the country’s disastrous efforts to host the Olympic Games is probably already aware that many restrictions were placed on both citizens and visitors while the Delta variant spread across their islands. The nation’s initial efforts in June and July to establish mass vaccination centers failed repeatedly due to both a problem in obtaining a sufficient number of doses and logistical nightmares encountered in trying to vaccinate such a widely distributed population. This led to the political impacts on the career of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and even worse physical impacts on a population with a huge number of elderly people. But now that the spotlight of the games has moved on and the vaccination program has continued to roll out, the country is preparing to lift most of the remaining COVID restrictions this week. So are they out of the woods? (Associated Press)

Japan is set to lift all coronavirus emergency measures when they expire later this week as the infections slow and the nation tries to reactivate its economy.

Officials in charge of coronavirus measures sought advice from experts at a meeting Tuesday, with some experts favoring a partial easing of restrictions first. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is expected to announce a lifting of the emergency and subsequent plans later Tuesday.

If all measures are lifted, Japan will be entirely free of any emergency requirement for the first time since April. Government officials are preparing for the relaxed restrictions by instituting other plans such as vaccine passports and virus tests.

All of this is being done just as Prime Minister Suga is packing up his things. He will be replaced later this week, after his standing, even among his own party, took a beating following his decision to press forward with the games. He continues to insist that the games weren’t a superspreader event, but few seem to agree with him. His popularity plummeted as a result and now the party will be choosing someone to put this period of discontent behind them.

Not all of the restrictions are going away, however. The national order is more of an advisory, while the leaders of the various prefectures will continue to make their own policies. Most are pushing for a gradual lifting of restrictions. For example, most bars and restaurants are operating on significantly restricted hours. Rather than returning to normal all at once, the majority will slowly expand their operating hours while waiting to see if their COVID numbers go back up.

At the national level, the last sentence of the quoted excerpt above gives a hint as to how little the “new normal” will look like the old normal. Continued, mandatory COVID testing will remain the order of the day for the foreseeable future. And yes, Japan is already looking at instituting immunity passports. Of course, the Japanese aren’t accustomed to the same level of freedom from government control that Americans are and seem to have quickly bent a knee to all of the current restrictions. But still, life in Japan has probably changed in significant ways for a very long time to come. And visitors to that nation should probably be aware of that and tailor their travel plans accordingly.