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Japan agrees to allow fast-track entry of businesspeople from S. Korea

Travelers from China's Wuhan pass by body temperature scanners at Narita airport near Tokyo on Jan. 16, 2020. Photo: Kyodo. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

SEOUL, Oct 6, 2020, Yonhap. Japan has agreed to allow businesspeople from South Korea to enter the country without a 14-day coronavirus quarantine starting later this week, the foreign ministry said Tuesday, Yonhap News Agency reported.

The special entry procedure, set to take effect Oct. 8, comes about seven months after Tokyo slapped entry restrictions on Seoul in early March to stem the spread of the COVID-19, further straining the bilateral relations already frayed over wartime history and trade.

Fresh talks began in late July between the two countries about easing the entry curbs out of concerns that maintaining strict border controls would further weigh on the economies.

Under the eased entry program, businesspeople planning a short-term stay of up to 90 days in Japan will be exempt from mandatory two-week quarantine if they obtain a visa based on proof of a negative coronavirus test result from the past 72 hours and a written document explaining their travel plan.

Their entry to Japan is limited to Narita International Airport in Tokyo and Kansai International Airport in Osaka. For the first two weeks of their stay, they can only travel between their home and work by private vehicles instead of public transport.

Long-term visitors are required to be tested for the virus upon their arrival and to self-isolate for two weeks.

“We expect the agreement to resume people-to-people exchanges in earnest,” a ministry official told reporters. “We will continue our efforts to expand the scope of the special entry procedure and support economic activities.”

South Korea’s business circle welcomed the eased restrictions on entry for business travelers between Seoul and Tokyo.

“The eased entry program will help businesspeople from the two countries exchange their business ties, given that the entry restrictions have been a major stumbling block for their business activities,” the Federation of Korean Industries said in a statement.

Japan has effectively banned the entry of visitors from South Korea since March 9, with the imposition of tougher quarantine measures and suspension of the 90-day visa waiver program for South Koreans.

South Korea, in response, also tightened health screening at the airport for arrivals from the neighboring country and halted its own visa-free entry program for Japanese people.

The swift entry curbs between the two countries came as their bilateral relations became badly frayed over the issue of compensating wartime forced labor victims and Tokyo’s export restrictions.

Despite the strained ties, the two sides shared the need to resume economic and other essential exchanges so as to minimize the fallout from the pandemic.

South Korea has been active in seeking to establish the expedited entry programs for businesspeople with foreign countries and has so far clinched such agreements with China, the United Arab Emirates, Indonesia and Singapore.

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