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. Unless you are on the list of 50 or so nationalities that are currently banned from entering Japan (see below for the full list). In this case, the Japanese government made this decision for you – in effect until further notice. However, if you are among those who still have the choice to travel, the intention of this article is to arm you with the best knowledge to make an informed decision.

Japan coronavirus cases

As of April 9, 2020, Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare reports 4667 cases of COVID-19. See the case tracker below for up-to-date-figures in Japan.

Some good news is that over 330,000 people globally have recovered from COVID-19 already, and the crude mortality ratio remains relatively 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 banning foreign nationals who have been to the US, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, China, South Korea, Iran and most European countries in the last 14 days. See all countries on the entry ban list here (in effect since April 3, 2020).

Prime Minister Abe has asked that all city-run schools (from elementary to high school) to close until May 5, 2020. Japanese leaders have only recently called for increased “social distancing”—efforts to curb the spread of the disease through limiting social interaction. That call has gone unanswered for the most part, at least in Tokyo. There has been some effort though by cancellations and closures of the majority of cherry blossom viewing festivals, business events and other social gatherings throughout March or until further notice.

Measures were strengthened on April 8, 2020, when a state of emergency has been declared. This currently only applies to six prefectures, Tokyo and its surrounds. Trains are still running as usual and many shops that are considered essential remain open – think supermarkets, drug stores and convenience stores. Most restaurants and cafes are also still operating, but some have decided to close for the time being nevertheless.

The main effect of the new regulations are the temporary closure of anything entertainment-related, think cinemas, clubs, bars, pachinko parlors and so on. Working from home is now encouraged more strongly, but the hoards of worker bees on commuter trains in the morning have only thinned slightly.

This has slowed the outbreak in Japan considerably and pushed the country out of the top ten countries reporting COVID-19 cases.

japan coronavirus masks
A fashion surgical mask pop-up store in Omotesando. February 14th, 2020. | Photo by Chris Kirkland

Travel warnings for Japan

While Japan has currently banned a whole host of nations from entering, most governments are also advising against all non-essential travel. 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. Consider rescheduling your trip to Japan to a later time.

Pro tip: See our guide on what to do if your flight to Japan is canceled or postponed.

What do these travel advisories mean?

“Defer non-essential travel” or “Avoid all international travel” all means the same thing: your government would rather you do not travel. It’s in the best interest of your safety and the global community.

How to be safe from coronavirus in Japan?

According to the US Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization, 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.
  4. Practice social distancing.

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.

Coronavirus in Tokyo

As mentioned above, the social distancing is getting off to a slow start in Tokyo. Although, some of the usual crowds have dissipated as more people work from home and avoid going out. Hand sanitizers are also ubiquitous and masks are worn by many, showing that the denizens of Tokyo are starting to respond to the situation in earnest.

Tokyo governor, Yuriko Koike has asked residents to stay at home or avoid non-essential outings until April 12, at least. Prime Minister Abe reinforced this request with his declaration of a state of emergency on April 8. In Japan, no law forces people to stay home or refrain from gathering in groups, as the constitution does not allow for this. However, the police now politely question people that they find out and about where they are headed and what the purpose for their outing is, increasing pressure to follow the recommendations.

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.

Last updated on April 9, 2020 by Mareike Dornhege.

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