The Coronavirus outbreak really surprised the world. In the span of a couple of weeks, the virus first considered a "simple flu" only spreading in China (then on the Diamond Princess cruise ship off Yokohama) developed in a global pandemic, the biggest to happen in modern times, with:
- Hundred thousands of cases (not taking into account asymptomatic or not-tested patients, and false-negatives);
- Hundred thousands deaths (not taking into account non-tested victims, procedures varying from country to country).
About 80% of the most severely sick persons were the elderly (or patients with co-morbidity risk factors such as overweight, diabetes, high blood pressure or respiratory failure). Many governments nonetheless decided to close their countries' borders, thus stopping all economic activity and travels. As a consequence, global tourism came to a sudden halt in March, and at the same time, the opportunity to go to Japan.
This article sums up the element and events that could prevent a travel to Japan. It will be updated as new information become available.
The lockdown of North America and Western Europe
North America and Western Europe countries are the areas where Covid-19 outbreak was the most harmful in terms of death toll and economic consequences.
To prevent further spreading of the outbreak most of these areas’ countries decided on lockdown measures that were diversely enforced, such as:
- Stay at home recommendations or orders;
- Closure of schools and / or non-essential businesses;
- Ban on non-essential travels (both domestic and international);
- Borders closures and quarantine measures.
Moreover, social distancing and wearing a face mask are strongly recommended.
No fixed date for reopening
As of 11 May 2020, the U.S. has the highest number of confirmed active cases and deaths from Covid-19 in the world.
The first cases were confirmed in January 2020, and the U.S. government declared national emergency on March 13. Responses to the outbreak from states and localities varied widely from no major restrictions to strict lockdown measures, as in California or in New York were residents were ordered to stay at home except for:
- Getting food or health care;
- Going to work for "essential jobs," such as hospitals or retails for example.
Depending on the state or territory, these measures came into effect between March 15 and April 11, with various degrees of enforcement.
The U.S. government nonetheless issued a reopening plan in mid-April. It does not provide a specific reopening date but rather guidelines to help states into "opening up America again."
First opening phase started in May, no final deadline for reopening
In Canada, the first confirmed cases were discovered as soon as January 2020. In February, the government advised the population to stock food and medications in case of an epidemics and in March several members of the government and the Prime Minister had to self-quarantine due to contact with confirmed cases.
On March 12 flights with Italy were cut back, and on March 18 the borders with the United States were closed for non-essential travels.
Lockdown measures were announced one by one. Depending on the provinces, closing of schools occurred between March 13 and March 23, and of non-essential businesses between March 17 to April 1rst.
Reopening plans start from early May and will be implemented with various speed according to the provinces, with no general timeline announced.
Staged reopening starting in early June 2020
As of 11 May 2020, Britain has the second highest number of deaths from COVID-19 in the world.
Covid-19 confirmed cases were known from late February, and the outbreak considered a Level 4 (out of 5) incident on March 1rst. Consequently, travel restrictions in Italy, the epicenter in Europe, were announced as well as general travel restrictions and stay at home guidance. Schools and restaurants were closed as of March 20 and a lockdown on the whole population was imposed three days later.
U.K.’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson declared positive to Covid-19 by the end of March and was hospitalized a couple of days in an intensive care unit in early April.
On 10 May 2020, Johnson, who has recovered, announced a reopening strategy that will mainly apply to England, as the other nations plan to continue with strict lockdown measures.
The lockdown is to be partially lifted in England, where employees in construction and manufacturing industries are encouraged to go back to work. However, at the same time, telework is still recommended, and people are urged to avoid taking public transportation.
The second phase of reopening is planned to start in early June, with the opening of primary schools, and the third in July with the reopening of hotels, bars and restaurants.
Closure of Schengen area external borders
Initially planned in mid-April 2020, reopening of external borders was postponed until further notice, supposedly until summer.
Schengen area is the zone including 26 countries of the European Union (except the U.K.) where EU nationals can usually travel freely without visa. With the Covid-19 outbreak, external and internal borders were closed to prevent further spread of the virus from March 16.
By April, the extension of borders closure was on the way for several months to:
- Respond to Covid-19 surge in the US;
- Adapt to the various reopening schedules of the different countries;
- Possibly help intra-European tourism and local economies during summer holidays.
Tourism industry is awaiting new announcements in May, which will hopefully give further indications on reopening.
Suspension of flight connections
Most airlines are expected to resume flights progressively starting from May, to probably reach a more sustained pace by July 2020.
As a consequence of stay at home recommendations, lockdowns and the closing of Schengen area, airlines have cut most of their flight connections both domestically and internationally (up to 80% of the global air traffic).
Except for repatriation operations and sanitary supply, there is no essential reason to travel by plane at the moment. Airlines thus wait for travelers to be authorized to travel again to resume their flight activity, with daily flights and especially international flights.
As for safety measures, some airports plan to implement body temperature control with thermic cameras. Some airline companies such as Air France will impose to wear a face mask inside the plane from May 11, and Lufthansa plans to require travelers wearing face mask until August 31.
Closing of Japan’s borders
No fixed date announced for reopening, supposedly at the beginning of summer 2020.
At the end of March 2020, as a preventive measure against the Coronavirus outbreak on its own territory, Japanese government announced the closing of its borders until further notice for any traveler who stayed in a European country, in the United States, in China and South Korea during the 14 days preceding their arrival in Japan.
This measure concerned every foreign national in Japan with a working visa or any visa (even with permanent resident status!) who are not allowed to come back in the archipelago even if they left for a short period. Only Japanese nationals’ spouses were permitted reentry.
The Japanese government will make new announcements at the end of May on this matter, and about a possible prolongation of the state of emergency in Japan.
Suspension of temporary visa to Japan
No fixed date announced for visa exemption resumption, supposedly during summer 2020.
Traveling to Japan has been easy and convenient for years thanks to the visa waiver program. Thanks to this arrangement, most of North America and Europe's citizens were only required to hold a valid passport to enter and stay in Japan up to 90 consecutive days for tourism, without any other requirement.
Since the end of March 2020 however, the visa waiver program was suspended, and at the moment it is not possible to go to Japan under the previous agreements between Japan and foreign countries.
The Japanese government is expected to make new announcements at the end of May on this matter, and about a possible prolongation of the state of emergency in Japan.
Covid-19 responses and "lockdown" in Japan
People already in Japan can still travel in the country provided they follow official instructions.
A slow-spreading Covid-19 epidemic in Japan
The number of confirmed Covid-19 cases rose slightly, but it stays relatively low compared to many other countries, with, as of May 13:
- Confirmed cases: 15,925 (about 0,01% of the total population);
- Number of deaths: 688.
Most of Japanese people wear sanitary masks, and it was an habit way before the coronavirus outbreak. Moreover, it is now possible to purchase face masks quite easily in Japan, as well as hand sanitizer gel at affordable prices.
Short state of emergency and lockdown in Japan
7 prefectures (Tokyo, Saitama, Kanagawa, Chiba, Osaka, Hyogo and Fukuoka) were declared under sanitary emergency state by the Japanese government for the period between April 7 and May 6. Other prefectures joined quickly (especially Kyoto, Hokkaido and Aichi) before Abe Prime Minister extended the state of emergency to the whole country on April 16. The state of emergency was initially to end on May 6 (or 10 due to the Golden Week), but was extended to May 31. However, on May 6, about 18 prefectures lifted the state of emergency as their situations were considered back to normal. On May 14, the state of emergency is lifted for 39 out of 47 prefectures. Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and Hokkaido plan to end it on May 21.
Staying at home is only a recommendation in Japan, as the government has not the authority to impose a lockdown and enforce sanctions. A large majority of Japanese people carry out this recommendation however.
Closed touristic attractions in Japan
Many touristic sites are closed, but not the majority, and several events (conventions, festivals, etc.) were cancelled or postponed, as everywhere in the world.
Staying in Japan at the moment is even more pleasant as there are fewer tourists than usual, if none.
When to plan the next trip in Japan after Coronavirus?
If you are not at risk (see the beginning of this article) and that you don’t show symptoms, planning a trip to Japan once every official permission is cleared is possible.
What you should mainly pay attention to is the choice of the period for this trip, as:
- Prices for autumn 2020, and especially October have already risen;
- Spring 2021 will certainly be overcrowded with tourists for sakura season (late March-early April);
- Summer travels non related to sports will be complicated by the postponing of the Olympic games in late July / early August 2021.
We will thus recommend choosing smart to discover Japan in the best conditions and to travel in:
- September 2020 (if all Covid-19-related obstacles are cleared);
- The beginning of November 2020 to mid-March 2021;
- From early May (after the Golden Week) to early July 2021;
- From the end of August 2021.