TOKYO – Auto executives traveling to Japan may want to reconsider their decision if business travel can wait. In the era of the unleashed omicron variant of COVID-19, the Japanese gauntlet of quarantine controls is a mind-boggling mix between the Toyota production system and “Squid game. “
I recently returned to Tokyo from a work and family trip to Detroit. What awaited us in the capital Haneda The airport was as astonishing for its over-designed and hyper-efficient logistics as it was maddening in its inflexible robotic bureaucracy. In short: the event was uniquely Japanese.
It involved four hours of navigating through checkpoints, installing tracking software on smartphones, another PCR test, signing a 14-day quarantine pledge, and scrutinizing immigration like everything else. what I have seen in my decade living here under âpermanent residenceâ status. After we were finally admitted to Japan, we were then rushed on a dark overnight bus trip to a government-appointed hotel for the first three days of isolation.
All participants in Japan must isolate for 14 days – usually at home. But those coming from COVID-19 hotspots, like the United States, are forced to quarantine themselves initially in a hotel for three to 14 days, depending on the severity of the outbreak that caused the trip. Michigan gets three days. Some states, including Florida, Texas, California and New York, are hit with a six-day hotel closure.
At our hotel in central Tokyo, my two teenage daughters and I hugged each other before being tucked into separate rooms for the duration. As a minimum security prison, we cannot leave the rooms. Three meals a day – Japanese bento lunch boxes and green tea – are left at the door.
A bit like prison: the government foots the bill. At least we had that to ourselves.
Japan’s strict guidelines, anathema to the relaxed approach taken in the United States, are more akin to even stricter measures enforced in neighboring China. This country has been in the headlines lately for locking down the set xian city, a metropolis of some 13 million inhabitants, as part of a zero-tolerance containment policy, amid reports of disrupted food and medical services.
Japan’s measures are part of that island nation’s efforts to stop the arrival of omicron to the waterfront by filtering inbound into the country. As the omicron progresses across much of the world, Japan’s fiery defense has slowed its spread here.
With the arrival of omicron, the United States is seeing record highs of more than one million new cases per day. In Japan, on the other hand, the daily count has exceeded 2,000 for the first time in months.
Keeping a lid on national transmission – aided by compulsive wearing of masks – has helped Japan avoid the lengthy factory shutdowns that have hit other economies during the pandemic.
So Japan finds inconvenient quarantine a small price to pay – especially when the burden falls primarily on foreigners and Japanese foolhardy to travel during a pandemic. Japanese automakers, for the most part, are cutting back on international travel – such as at CES in Las Vegas – during the omicron outbreak.
When the new arrivals disembark, they’re herded into a maze of Ellis Island-worthy quarantine stations – all set in unused airport gates, face masks required.
After a first selection, we received oversized plasticized green labels to affix to our arms with rubber bands. These marked us as going to government quarantine hotels. Resembling Paddington with its yellow âkeep this bearâ label, we then moved on to the PCR test. There, more than 20 telephone booths ringing in the workspace, all filled with people spitting saliva into test tubes. We left our samples hoping for the best.
Next, we installed our tracking apps. Through Ministry of Health decree, we must report our state of health on this app every morning for 14 days. Additionally, every day we get random video calls to confirm that we are properly quarantined and not roaming the streets.
Sometimes there is a real human caller, other times it is an automated call. When the app rings, you need to show your face with the background of the room and let the app record your GPS coordinates. Throughout the day, the app provides us with further prompts for further confirmation. (This is in addition to another separate online health report that we need to complete daily for the hotel.)