As cases of coronavirus in Japan continue to rise, travellers are beginning to ask: is it safe to visit Japan? Here we look into the latest Japan travel advice, and how the outbreak could affect the Olympic Games.

There are concerns that Japan’s true number of coronavirus cases could be significantly higher than is currently being reported, with some experts questioning the country’s testing methods.

Masahiro Kami, the executive director of Japan’s Medical Governance Research Institute, said for every one patient tested, there are many more who remain undiagnosed.

There have been 361 confirmed infections across Japan, excluding cases from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which saw 696 cases of coronavirus. Outside China, South Korea (6,088), Italy (3,089), Iran (3,513) Germany (444) and France (377) have had more cases of coronavirus.

According to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), Japan stands to lose the most in tourism revenue due to disruption caused to travel by the illness, with nearly a billion pounds (the ICAO estimated $1.29bn) in revenue wiped off the books for the first three months of the year. Thailand was second, with $1.15billion (£888,000) lost.

Countries in south-east Asia have suffered from the lockdown placed on 150 million people in China, as well as the cancellation of hundreds of flights in and out of the country. 

Tokyo is due to host the Olympic Games this summer

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Even though the Foreign Office has not issued a warning against travel to Japan, many Britons are asking whether it is safe to travel to Japan. After the cancellation of the Tokyo Marathon for all-but elite runners, some are also questioning whether this summer’s Tokyo Olympic Games could be affected by the virus. On March 3, Japan’s Olympic Minister stressed that the country’s contract to hold the Tokyo Games only specifies it needs to take place in 2020 – hinting that they could plausibly be delayed.

So the question is: is it safe or advisable to travel to Japan right now? Here is the latest Japan travel advice, following the coronavirus outbreak.

The numbers: coronavirus in Japan

  • On land: 361 cases of coronavirus; on-board the now-evacuated Diamond Princess cruise: 696 (as of March 5)
  • 6 deaths (6 Diamond Princess passengers have died)
  • 43 recovered (212 Diamond Princess passengers have recovered)
  • 29 serious condition (35 Diamond Princess passengers in serious condition)

The timeline

January 6: Chinese national who had previously travelled to Wuhan returns to Japan. On January 16, Japanese authorities confirm a positive test for coronavirus.

January 24–5: A second case is confirmed in Japan on January 24 – a Chinese national who visited from Wuhan. The following day, a third case is confirmed.

January 28: Seven cases confirmed in Japan, including a man who had not visited Wuhan. 

February 3: Japan says it will not admit anyone with history of travelling to and from Hubei Province, or who has a Chinese passport issued from Hubei.

Quarantined passengers stand on their balconies on the Diamond Princess cruise ship

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February 11: Total coronavirus cases rise to 31.

February 13: 218 cases confirmed on the Diamond Princess cruise ship. An 80-year-old infected with coronavirus dies in Kanagawa Prefecture, next to Tokyo.

February 17: 454 people diagnosed with coronavirus out of 3,600 passengers and crew aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship (after testing 1,723). On-land cases rise to 65.

February 18: 88 more confirmed cases of coronavirus on the Diamond Princess, bringing the total up to 542.

February 19: The quarantine ends and passengers who have tested negative begin to disembark; 74 Britons were on-board, however, six are believed to have been infected. Those still ill will continue to be treated on-board or transferred to medical facilities. 

February 22: British passengers aboard the Diamond Princess (who have not tested positive for novel coronavirus) arrives at Ministry of Defence base near Salisbury, Wiltshire after long ordeal aboard cruise ship

February 25: Total number of coronavirus cases in Japan rises to 160. Japanese shares tumble as coronavirus fears continue to hit markets.

February 27: A Japanese woman tests positive for coronavirus for the second time after an apparent recovery.

March 2: Schools across Japan close until early April, with the exception of Shimane in western Japan, which has had no reported cases of coronavirus.

March 3: Total number of on-land coronavirus cases rises to 283. 

Is it safe to travel to Japan? Foreign Office advice

The Foreign Office advice updated its coronavirus advice on February 29: “There are enhanced quarantine procedures at entry points to Japan such as airports and ports. The authorities may carry out extended health checks on arrival including compulsory hospitalisation. You should comply with any additional screening measures by the authorities if asked to go through extra checks.”

“As a preventative measure against the spread of coronavirus, the Immigration Services Agency of Japan has announced that, unless there are exceptional circumstances the following people are not permitted to enter Japan:

Japan is ‘culturally clued up about preventing germs spreading,’ says Emma Cooke

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  • foreign nationals who have been to Hubei or Zhejiang provinces in the People’s Republic of China within 14 days prior to arrival.
  • foreign nationals who have a Chinese passport issued by Hubei or Zhejiang provinces in the People’s Republic of China.
  • foreign nationals who have travelled to the South Korean city of Daegu or the neighbouring county of Cheongo within 14 days prior to arrival.

“Some flights from Japan to mainland China have been suspended or cancelled; check with your travel provider for updates. The Government of Japan has requested that all primary and secondary schools close from 2 March until regular spring holidays at the end of March. They have also requested that organisers consider postponing or cancelling large-scale cultural and sporting events during an initial two-week period from 26 February. The northern island of Hokkaido also issued a ‘declaration of state of emergency on 28 February lasting until 19 March, asking residents to refrain from going out, particularly at weekends.

British nationals in Japan should continue to follow the advice of local authorities.The Japan National Tourism Organisation has a 24 hour hotline (+81 50 3816-2787) which provides support and advice for visitors in Japan including on coronavirus. NHK news (English) has the latest information about coronavirus in Japan. British nationals living in Japan who have symptoms and are concerned that they may have been infected may wish to contact a local hotline. Details are available on this website.

“If you’re returning to the UK from Japan, consult the latest advice from the Department of Health and Social Care on actions you should take if you develop symptoms on your return.”

What is it like on the ground?

Our reporter, Emma Cooke, recently returned from Japan. She said: “Culturally clued up about preventing germs spreading, nearly everyone was wearing a mask when I arrived, despite there not being that many cases at the time – including all members of staff in people-facing jobs. Responses to the virus have been incredibly efficient too. Even in rural hotels, information sheets on keeping safe from coronavirus were provided, and stations had QR codes you could scan to get real-time news.”

Only elite athletes competed in the Tokyo Marathon

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What does coronavirus mean for the Olympics?

A number of major sporting events have been cancelled since the outbreak of coronavirus, and others have been played in front of empty stadiums. The World Indoor Championships (athletics) in Nanjing was called off, as was Formula One in Shanghai. J-League football games have been cancelled until March 15 and the Tokyo Marathon, held on March 1, was all-but cancelled, restricted to elite athlete only.

As a result, people are starting to question whether this summer’s Tokyo Olympic Games could be affected or even postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak.

On March 3, Japan’s Olympic Minister Seiko Hashimoto said that their contract to host the Olympic Games only specifies they need to take place during 2020. Some are interpreting this as a hint that the Games may not begin on July 24, as planned.

Football fans wear face masks at a J League match on February 22

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Would I get money back if I cancelled my trip to Japan?

If the Foreign Office changes its travel advice for the country you are visiting to “avoid all but essential travel” or “avoid all travel” and you have booked with a tour operator, you should be eligible for a refund, or your tour operator will organise alternative travel arrangements. If you have booked your holiday independently and a foreign office warning is put in place before you travel, you will have to check the terms and conditions of your bookings and your insurance policy.

If you want to cancel a package holiday to a country that does not have a Foreign Office warning in place, then you will not be eligible for a refund. If you have booked independently and the region is still considered safe by the FCO, you are unlikely to be able to cancel our change your trip without losing money. Your best course of action would be to contact your hotel, tour operator or airline to ask if you can change your plans.

Is my insurance valid if I travel to Japan?

Your travel insurance will be valid so long as the Foreign Office has not issued a warning before you travel. If the FCO issues a warning while you are in an affected region, you will be covered as normal so long as you follow the latest FCO advice for British nationals. Some insurance policies will provide support if, when you are abroad, you are prevented from travelling home due to travel restrictions caused by coronavirus. Always double check your policy, and check Foreign Office warnings, before you travel. This piece gives advice how coronavirus will affect your travel insurance.

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