Japan’s government defended tighter travel restrictions on visitors from China and South Korea, saying they were not too late to help slow the spread of the coronavirus outbreak, as Seoul protested the measures as “excessive”.
From Saturday, the government will also bar entry to people who have been to areas of South Korea and Iran with high infection rates.
“It is extremely regrettable Japan took this unreasonable and excessive step without sufficient prior consultation with us, and we strongly urge immediate reconsideration,” South Korea’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
South Korean Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said Seoul would respond with countermeasures, although he gave no details on what actions could be taken.
Relations between South Korea and former colonial ruler Japan are already under strain by a dispute over wartime labor that has spilled into trade.
Japan’s economy minister acknowledged the restrictions could hurt inbound tourism, although he said the priority needs to be on preventing the spread of the virus.
“The quarantine steps could have a negative impact on tourism in the short-term, but the number of tourists from China has already significantly dropped,” Yasutoshi Nishimura told reporters on Friday. “I will closely monitor the impact of the steps and how much we can curb infection.”
Chinese visitors in particular have been a lynchpin of Prime Minister Abe’s program for economic revitalization.
In a statement, Nishimura said the virus is having a major impact on the economy, and policy makers will take “necessary and ample” measures “without hesitation”.
The Bank of Japan may take steps this month to ensure companies hit by the outbreak do not face a financial squeeze before the March end of the current fiscal year, according to sources familiar with the central bank’s thinking.
Japan faces the risk of its first recession in nearly five years, with local residents also curbing spending and many businesses forced to stay closed because of the outbreak