Travellers wait to board their plane at Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport amid a wave of the COVID-19 infections
Travellers wait to board their plane at Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport amid a wave of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infections, in Chengdu, Sichuan province, China December 30, 2022. Reuters

Japan will toughen its COVID-19 border control measures for travellers from China from Sunday, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said, in response to a surge of infections.

Additional measures will require negative coronavirus tests taken within 72 hours of passengers boarding direct flights from China, the government said on Wednesday after Kishida's announcement, stepping up measures adopted on Dec. 30.

Japan will continue to ask airlines to limit additional flights from China, he told a nationally televised New Year news conference.

The decision followed results of COVID-19 tests on travellers from China in recent days and similar measures by other countries, he said.

A Japanese health ministry tally shows 53 of 56 international travellers who tested positive for COVID on arrival at airports on Tuesday were from China.

China's axing of its stringent virus curbs last month has unleashed COVID on a 1.4 billion population that has little natural immunity having been shielded from the virus since it emerged in Wuhan three years ago.

"The opaque situation of the outbreak in mainland China has made many in Japan worried," Kishida later told a Fuji TV show.

He said Japan's government would seek to assess the level of infection among Chinese travellers by conducting PCR or quantitative antigen tests as well as genomic surveillance on arrival.

China has rejected foreign scepticism of its statistics as politically motivated attempts to smear its achievements in fighting the virus.

It has described such travel tests as "discriminatory". They have also been imposed by the United States, European countries and South Korea, among others.

Separately, Japan's foreign ministry said direct flights from Hong Kong and Macau would be allowed to land at airports other than Narita and Haneda near Tokyo, Kansai near Osaka and Chubu near Nagoya, easing curbs ordered last week.

Airlines must still hold down additional flights from Hong Kong and the gambling hub of Macau even after the list of destination airports widens on Sunday, the ministry added.