We know, viruses—especially new ones that spread quickly—are unsettling. Like most people aware of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, you’re probably eager to avoid any contact with the virus whatsoever. Does that mean you should avoid traveling to Japan? Only you, dear reader, can decide that. However, the intention of this article is to arm you with the information to make an informed decision.

Current situation in Japan

As of February 27, 2020, Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare reports under 300 known cases of COVID-19—that number excludes the several hundred cases from the Diamond Princess cruise ship that was quarantined in Yokohama Bay (link in Japanese). See the case tracker below for up-to-date-figures in Japan.

Japan’s cases are made up of travelers from Wuhan, Japanese evacuees from Wuhan, Japanese residents who were infected after working in close contact with infected travelers from Wuhan (plus relatives or associates of those residents), as well as health workers and a quarantine officer working in close contact with infected persons. There has been one reported death so far, and a number of people have recovered and are no longer receiving treatment.

Some good news is that close to 30,000 people globally have recovered from COVID-19 already, and the total death count remains low—far lower than those from SARS and MERS, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus—Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) director—reminds us.

Japan is taking a proactive approach to limiting the spread of the virus by isolating known cases and by closing the border to travelers from Hubei Province. As of this writing, Japan has not closed the border to all travelers from China.

Prime Minister Abe has asked all schools (from elementary to high school) to close from Monday, March 2nd to help curb the spread of COVID-19.

Fashion Mask Popup
A fashion surgical mask pop-up store in Omotesando. February 14th, 2020. | Photo by Chris Kirkland

Travel advisories

At the moment, there are a few travel advisories specifically concerning novel coronavirus for Japan. You can keep track of the latest travel advisories for Japan from your respective countries using the following links. For countries not listed, please consult travel advisories from your country’s ministry of foreign affairs.

Precautions against catching the coronavirus

According to the US Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organisation, advice for avoiding infection by novel coronavirus is the same as for other respiratory viral infections such as the common cold and influenza.

  1. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, getting between each finger and under nails. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available.
  2. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  3. Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

Although the efficacy is questionable, some people wear surgical masks as a preventative measure. One bonus of wearing a mask is that it may stop you from inadvertently touching your nose and mouth with unwashed hands. If you would like to wear a mask, you should bring them with you as they are currently in short supply in Japan. If you are suffering from a regular cold or cough, you should consider wearing a mask as a cultural courtesy while in Japan.

Will the situation get better or worse over the next few months?

It’s still too early to say. The time between infection and first symptoms is between 2 and 14 days, and the virus can be spread before symptoms are evident, so COVID-19 will be with us for a while longer.

Travel insurance and cancellations

Your coverage for cancellations due to COVID-19 will vary depending on your insurance provider. Also note that if your country has issued an official advisory against non-essential travel to a certain country/region, and you still decide to visit, you may invalidate your policy. Check with your travel insurance provider and read the fine print.

Read our guide to travel insurance for Japan.

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