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Some foreigners denied reentry into Japan despite testing negative for coronavirus

TOKYO -- Although foreign residents have gradually been permitted to reenter Japan from early August, there are cases where such individuals are forced to return to their home countries, even if they tested negative for the coronavirus twice in tests required upon departure and arrival.

    This issue arises as the Japanese government requires the submission of results from tests that take samples from either the nasopharynx, which is the upper part of the throat behind the nose, or saliva, and does not accept test results using samples taken from the pharynx, or part of the throat, which are common in some regions in China.

    A 25-year-old Chinese woman who was returned to her country commented, "I wanted a clear explanation on the differences beforehand."

    This woman departed from Dalian in China's northeastern Liaoning province on Aug. 11 and flew into Narita International Airport in the eastern Japan prefecture of Chiba on the same day. She took a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test that collected saliva samples at the airport, and got back test results one hour later indicating that she had tested negative for the virus. Although she submitted these results to the immigration office with those of the test taken in China prior to her departure, she was called into the administrative office about two and a half hours later, and was handed over a piece of paper that read, "You will be sent back to the country of departure."

    The woman was forced to fly back to China on Aug. 13 after staying two nights at the airport, and is currently being kept under quarantine for two weeks in Dalian, due to Chinese government regulations. Expenses for the one-way plane ticket back home, which cost 75,000 yen (about $708) and quarantine expenses of 4,500 yuan (approximately $650) were shouldered by the woman herself.

    The woman, who is from the northeastern part of China, had planned to return to the Japanese language school in mid-August, and prepare for entrance exams for a graduate school in Tokyo which takes place in late September. "I have used up part of my savings set aside for tuition, and don't have the time to prepare for entrance exams. I might not return to Japan again," said the woman.

    Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs explains on its website that the method of tests required for reentry is "only limited to the test method and samples mentioned in the format." The format which is attached in a link on its website includes a section to put a check mark for either "nasopharyngeal swab" or "saliva" for possible samples.

    The Japanese government apparently deemed throat samples as nonapplicable in order to stay consistent with the sample methods of nose swabs and saliva that are conducted in Japan. A government source said there was no problem with the method of collecting samples from the throat itself.

    Meanwhile, the woman had trouble finding a hospital in her city in China that would issue a test certificate in English, and the hospital that she finally found only took samples from the throat. Furthermore, in northeastern China, tasks related to visa applications to enter Japan were undertaken by agencies run by the Chinese government in place of embassies and consulates, and the woman said that she had no opportunities to receive detailed explanations.

    The woman commented, "On the website of Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it wasn't clearly written that throat samples wouldn't be accepted, and an ordinary person like me couldn't understand what kind of differences there are."

    (Japanese original by Koichi Yonemura, China General Bureau and Sooryeon Kim, Lifestyle and Medical News Department)

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