International travel restrictions in Japan

Travel Restrictions Study by ACI APAC & OXERA & EDGE (1)
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As countries in Asia-Pacific move towards opening their borders, now that their populations are highly vaccinated, the airports council international (ACI) Asia-Pacific wanted to look at the impact of reducing COVID travel restrictions in Japan.

Since the start of the pandemic, Japan has imposed some of the most stringent international travel restrictions seen globally. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the government capped international air passenger volumes at 10,000 per day - corresponding to 3% of pre-pandemic volumes. Passengers were required to perform both pre-departure and on-arrival PCR tests.

Recent policy changes have seen the cap increase from 10,000 to 20,000 passengers per day and the removal on-arrival testing for passengers from low-risk countries.

These policy changes reflect lessons learned from the omicron response and from our analysis:

  • Despite applying stringent international travel restrictions, and bearing their economic repercussions, the Omicron COVID-19 variant was still imported in Japan in late 2021.

  • Populations in Japan and elsewhere are now highly vaccinated.

  • Our analysis suggests that continuing to implement pre-departure and on-arrival testing is likely to have a diminishing impact on delaying domestic spread. This trend is particularly striking should future variants of concern become more infectious as we have already seen throughout the pandemic.

This note sets out the high-level findings from our analysis, undertaken in partnership with Oxera Consulting:

  • Restrictions could delay the timing of the peak of a new wave if the restrictions are present when the VOC first emerges. This could be up to four days, with a pre-departure test, or ten days in with both pre-departure and on-arrival testing. At this stage in the pandemic, where governments already have procedures in place for managing Covid-19 and the population is highly vaccinated, the benefit of such a delay is likely to be limited.

  • The benefits of applying travel restrictions after VOCs emerge diminish quickly over time. We found that if there is a 7-day delay between the variant first emerging, and travel restrictions being imposed, the peak of the subsequent wave is delayed by a maximum of 3 days. Since there is often a gap between a variant of concern emerging and being designed “of concern” applying restrictions this quickly is unlikely to be achieved in practice.

  • If there is an ongoing vaccination campaign, for example should there be another booster campaign, pre-departure and on-arrival PCR testing has a small impact in reducing domestic spread. We found that the reduction in peak height, when compared to travel testing not being performed, varied between 0% and 6% depending on the situation modelled.