Even as reticent Japan kicked off "test tours" from this week onwards, the authorities haven't yet decided on full-scale resumption of inbound tourism. A rise in Covid cases may lead to a rollback of the current easing.
Japan will double the maximum number of people allowed every day to enter at border crossings to 20,000 from June 1 as part of a phased easing of Covid-19 restrictions, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Thursday.
Japan has maintained some of the strictest border controls in the world over the past two years in an effort to stem the spread of Covid-19, hammering inbound tourism which had been a major driver of economic growth.
“We will raise daily entries to 20,000 and allow travelers from countries with low positive testing rates (for Covid) to enter Japan without testing upon arrival,” Kishida told a symposium.
The daily limit will include returning citizens and residents as well as visa holders and visitors on package tours. Travelers from lower-risk countries who are fully vaccinated and boosted will be exempt from quarantine and Covid-19 testing.
Travelers on escorted package tours will be admitted from June 10, Kishida added.
The resumption of inbound tourism will provide welcome relief for Japan’s battered hospitality sector, though some remain concerned about a possible resurgence of the pandemic as Covid-19 curbs are eased.
Japan will prepare for the resumption of international flights to New Chitose airport in the northern tourism-reliant prefecture of Hokkaido and to Naha airport in the southernmost island of Okinawa by the end of June.
Kishida, who had signaled earlier this month plans to relax the border controls, defended the tough restrictions, saying they had helped to shield the healthcare system and provided time to vaccinate citizens.
Japan started a series of small-scale “test tours” this week, comprising visitors from the United States, Australia, Singapore and Thailand.
There’s no timetable for a full-scale resumption of individual tourism and the current easing could be rolled back if a rise in Covid cases requires such action, said Makoto Shimoaraiso, a Cabinet Secretariat official for Japan’s Covid response.
In 2019, before the pandemic struck, Japan hosted 31.9 million foreign visitors, who spent $38 billion. Inbound visitors sank to a record low 245,900 in 2021.
(Reporting by Tetsushi Kajimoto and Rocky Swift; editing by John Stonestreet and Gareth Jones)
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Photo credit: Japan has maintained some of the strictest border controls in the world over the past two years. huangzj100 / Pixabay