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Major Japan airports to set up PCR test centers to help restore int'l travel

Passengers wearing protective gear are seen boarding a special flight to Vietnam at Narita International Airport in Narita, Chiba Prefecture, on June 25, 2020. (Mainichi/Naoaki Hasegawa)

TOKYO -- The Japanese government plans to establish polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test centers to examine those who enter and leave the country at three major airports as well as core areas in Tokyo and Osaka, before the gradual lifting of travel bans amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The government wishes to increase the number of visitors traveling in and out of the country by boosting the current structure of examinations at airport quarantine stations, and aims to begin preparations from as early as this summer so that the centers can commence operations at an early stage.

New PCR test center buildings will be built near Tokyo's Haneda Airport, Narita International Airport based in the capital's neighboring Chiba Prefecture, and western Japan's Kansai International Airport. PCR tests are currently conducted at airport quarantine stations, and it takes around one to two days for test results to come back. Only about 1,000 tests are carried out a day. By setting up the test centers, the government aims to reduce the waiting time for test results to a few hours, and has set a target of expanding the number of tests to over 4,000 per day.

Test centers will also be built in two core areas within the prefectures of Tokyo and Osaka. Government officials have envisioned that these centers will mainly carry out testing on individuals who require certification of testing negative for the virus when departing the country.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga commented at a press conference on July 1, "In order to resume the international flow of people partially and in stages, it's absolutely essential to expand the capability and structure of examinations."

Since February, the national government has strengthened restrictions on entry to Japan in response to the novel coronavirus outbreak. On July 1, Japan added 18 countries, including Cuba and Cameroon, to a list of regions that face travel restrictions -- bringing the total number of countries and regions that are refused entry into Japan to 129. The government plans to expand negotiations on easing travel restrictions with each individual country while observing the state of the new PCR testing structure.

Businessmen and other individuals from Vietnam are already allowed to travel to and from Japan, and the national government aims to do the same for countries such as Thailand, Taiwan, Myanmar, and Brunei. The government has also entered into negotiations with Australia and New Zealand, but travel between the Asian countries is expected to precede. Discussions on this matter will also be made with South Korea and other countries in the future.

For the time being, those who will be permitted travel in and out of Japan amid the gradual lifting of bans are those making business-related trips and business expatriates, technical interns, and other individuals. The government expects that there will be around 250 travelers per day. When arriving in Japan, visitors will be required to submit documents including a certification of testing negative for the virus as well as a document outlining a plan for the visitor's activities in Japan.

Upon visitors' arrival, PCR tests will be carried out at airports and those who test negative will be allowed to enter the country. A certificate proving that one has tested negative is also necessary for Japanese nationals when they depart the country. The swift enhancement of the PCR testing structure centering around airports is imperative to expand international travel.

(Japanese original by Shinichi Akiyama and Kazuhiko Hori, Political News Department)

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