Japan entry ban waylays Vietnamese family reunion plans
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Men wearing protective suits make their way at a bus stop at Narita international airport on the first day of closed borders to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus Omicron variant in Narita, east of Tokyo, Japan, November 30, 2021. Photo by Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon
The Japanese government’s latest entry ban on foreign arrivals over the Omicron novel coronavirus variant has crushed the family reunion hopes of many Vietnamese citizens.
Phuong Chinh, a native of the northern province of Ninh Binh, was dreaming of reuniting with her husband in Japan after three years. The entry ban has left her shocked and broken hearted.
"I am really disappointed and helpless. I don't know what to do. Everything was close to being achieved, but all of a sudden, things have fallen apart," Chinh told VnExpress.
Chinh began preparing for her reunion in July last year. After several months of learning the Japanese language and completing other formalities, she planned to leave Vietnam for Japan in June this year. However, that plan was derailed with the appearance of the highly transmissible Delta variant, which forced the Japanese government to tighten entry regulations.
In early November, Japan eased its border restrictions, allowing foreigners to visit the country for short business trips, study abroad and technical training, but the appearance of Omicron, which the World Health Organization has termed a "variant of concern," has changed everything again.
"My flight schedule was delayed from June to December, but now Japan has imposed the latest entry ban, so I don't know when I can fly again," Chinh said.
"We have been apart for three years and I hoped to reunite with my husband and work together to pay off our debt, but things haven't gone as we hoped.
"Many people like me have had to borrow money from banks to get a ticket to Japan to work or study, but such repeat entry bans due to the pandemic has left things up in the air," she said.
Japan took some of the strictest steps globally last Monday, closing its borders to new foreign entrants for a month and ordering airlines to halt new reservations. It has so far recorded two imported cases of the latest variant.
While people like Phuong wait to get to Japan, many Vietnamese living and working in the Northeast Asian country are disappointed that the new travel ban will disrupt their plans to travel back home and reunite with their families during the upcoming Tet - Lunar New Year holiday.
After three years away from home, Minh De, a Vietnamese living in the Okinawa Prefecture, planned to return home to celebrate Tet in February.
"When I heard about the new entry ban by the Japanese government, I felt very sad because my travel home has to be canceled. Another year away from my family and friends," De said.
De said the pandemic had ruined many of his plans over the past two years.
"Flying back and forth between Japan and Vietnam during the pandemic time required a lot of procedures and people had to wait a long time to look for a repatriation flight."
Nguyen Hoa, a Vietnamese living in Aichi Prefecture, is also worried that her plan to return to Vietnam to give birth and celebrate Tet will be affected.
"I should have boarded a plane back to Vietnam on November 30, but at the last minute, the flight was delayed until December 8 because there were not enough passengers," Hoa said.
Hoa is due to give birth at the end of February but because the journey to Vietnam required many procedures, she wanted to fly as soon as possible.
"I hope the upcoming flight schedule will not be further delayed because of pandemic prevention regulations," she said.
De and Hoa are also worried that Japan has detected the Omicron coronavirus variant in the country.
According to scientists, the Omicron variant was first discovered in Botswana on Nov. 24, with up to 32 mutations in the spike protein. This is the most mutated variant of the novel coronavirus, which is predicted to spread faster with higher risk of reinfection than other strains.
Many countries around the world, including the U.S. and European countries have banned flights from southern Africa and surrounding areas starting Monday to mitigate threats posed by the new Covid variant.
"I just hope the pandemic will come to an end soon so that everyone can reunite with their families and carry out other cherished plans," De said.