Japan to Fully Reopen in October, as Asian Holdouts Dwindle

TOKYO – Nearly two and a half years after instituting some of the strictest border controls related to the pandemic, Japan on Thursday said it will finally welcome back most travelers next month when They seek to revive their once lucrative tourism industry.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who is in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, said that on October 11, Japan will remove the limit on the number of daily visitors and start allowing tourists – who have been forced to arrange visits and get visas through travel agencies – to move freely around the country.

“People around the world have been asking ‘when can we travel to Japan,'” Mr Kishida said at a reception, according to public broadcaster NHK. “Now, I hope they will plan to visit Japan and enjoy Japanese food.”

The announcement comes as two other major Asian organizations are also working to lift some of their final border restrictions. On Thursday, Taiwan said it would end a three-day mandatory quarantine for visitors as early as October 13. Hong Kong is expected to announce a similar step on Friday, the big move. their best towards living with Covid-19.

When the pandemic hit in early 2020, Japan quickly closed its borders, locking down virtually all non-citizens. However, reopening borders is a lengthy, step-by-step process long after nearly all other major countries have fully reopened.

The decision to open borders comes as Covid cases in Japan have dropped to their lowest numbers in months and as the country’s currency hovers around its weakest against the dollar in nearly a quarter. century.

While the plunging yen is painful for domestic consumers, the government hopes it will make Japan an attractive destination for travelers looking for a bargain. On Friday, the yen – which has fallen more than 20% year-over-year – hovered around 142 against the dollar.

Over the past decade, international tourism has become an increasingly important industry for Japan, which has greatly boosted tourism to the country ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, originally scheduled for August. 2020 but held a year later.

According to government figures, more than 30 million international tourists visited Japan in 2019, tripling from six years ago.

During the pandemic, the country virtually banned all travel from abroad, making it nearly impossible to obtain a visa for any purpose, including business. Hundreds of thousands of foreign residents who have built a life in this country have found themselves lock for months, separating couples and families.

After the vaccine is available, the country begins to reopen tentatively. Limited travel for work and study resumed this spring. However, tourism is largely limited to people taking part in tightly controlled package tours.

Even as business leaders press for a full government opening, Japan is harming itself by falling behind the rest of the Group of Seven in lifting restrictions. , officials have moved slowly, with opinion polls showing support for tight borders.

Some critics argue that the government’s decision to maintain the restrictions is based on politics, not science, and warn that Japan is falling into a state of isolation that has marked a historic moment. earlier in this country.

Now, the reopening could release a huge amount of pent-up travel demand, providing a much-needed boost to the country’s hard-hit tourism and hospitality sectors. .

But domestic travel is unlikely to reach pre-pandemic levels anytime soon. Chinese tourists, who accounted for about 30% of domestic tourism in 2019, are severely limited in their ability to travel under Beijing’s strict anti-Covid policies. China was the last major country to close its borders in an effort to eliminate the virus.

Domestically, Japan plans to encourage tourism by offering government-subsidized discounts to Japanese people for hotels, restaurants and certain types of entertainment, Mr. Kishida said. It’s a revival of a scheme, called “Travelling,” that his predecessor, Yoshihide Suga, introduced in an effort to help domestic tourism after it was wiped out for months beginning of the pandemic.

Travelers who wish to enter Japan need to show proof that they have had three doses of the coronavirus vaccine or provide proof of a negative test result taken no more than 72 hours before departure to Japan .

Hisako Ueno contribution report.

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