Japan aims to remove the maximum for daily arrivals by the end of October, government sources said Monday, as it looks set to revitalize the world’s third-largest economy from the absence of tourists amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s government, which is under pressure from business circles to relax strict travel regulations for COVID-19, is likely to assess next week how to relax border control measures, the sources said.
Passengers of international flights arrive at Haneda Airport in Tokyo on September 7, 2022. Japan, whose tourism industry is reeling from the strict COVID-19 border controls that have been imposed for more than two years, increased its daily entry limit for same-day arrivals from 20,000 to 50,000. (TBEN) ==TBEN
In addition to lifting the entry limit, which is currently set at 50,000, the government is also expected to discuss whether foreign tourists will be allowed to travel without a guide, according to the sources.
Japan has been criticized at home and abroad for failing to keep pace with other Group of Seven major industrialized nations, including Britain, France and the United States, in opening its borders, as well as those that do to obtain visas and ask them to wear a mask at all times while traveling.
Japanese Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno speaks at a press conference at the Prime Minister’s Office in Tokyo on Sept. 12, 2022. (TBEN)
For domestic tourism, meanwhile, the government is considering restarting its national subsidy program as early as the end of September, as the number of new COVID-19 cases is falling, according to the sources.
The program, which extends the scope of the domestic tourism campaign introduced by each Japanese prefecture, could last until the end of this year, offering up to 11,000 yen ($77) per capita for a one-night stay in financial assistance, the sources said. .
The expected start date will be determined by each prefecture and the nationwide program may not start at the same time across the country.
To be eligible for the program, applicants must prove they have been vaccinated at least three times or provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test, the sources said.
Earlier in the day, Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said the government will consider how to ease COVID-19 restrictions while “maintaining a balance between preventing the spread of infection” and promoting “social and economic activities”.
Matsuno’s comments came a day after Deputy Cabinet Secretary Seiji Kihara said in a televised appearance that the government is reviewing its border control policy to keep daily imports below 50,000 and will remove it in the not too distant future.
As the Japanese economy shows little sign of a strong recovery, the Kishida government has tried to accelerate growth by inviting more foreign visitors, who can now take advantage of the rapid depreciation of the Japanese yen.
Matsuno said at a news conference that the government will continue to make appropriate decisions based on the infection situation, as well as the needs of travelers and border measures taken by other major economies.
Last Wednesday, Japan raised its entry limit from 20,000 to 50,000. Now inbound travelers who have been vaccinated at least three times do not have to undergo coronavirus testing and prove they are not infected within 72 hours of departure.
The limit for overseas arrivals, including Japanese nationals, has been raised in stages since March, as the country struggles with the seventh wave of infections caused by the highly contagious Omicron variant.
In 2021, only 245,900 foreign visitors entered Japan, the lowest figure since comparable data became available in 1964, which dealt a significant blow to the country’s travel industry, which relied heavily on inbound tourists before the pandemic began in early 2020.
Japan’s economy recovered to pre-pandemic levels in the April-June period, growing 3.5 percent year-on-year from a quarter earlier, but analysts said the outlook remains bleak as a resurgence in infections and rising costs could weigh on consumer spending.
The yen recently hit a new 24-year low against the US dollar. A weaker yen increases the purchasing power of foreign travelers to Japan, with the value of their currencies, such as the dollar and euro, rising against the Japanese unit.
A declining yen also usually supports exports by making Japanese products cheaper abroad and increases the value of overseas revenues in yen, while import prices rise. Japan depends on imports for more than 90 percent of its energy needs.
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FOCUS: Japan is easing COVID-19 border controls, but tourist growth questionable