Govt aims to boost economy by easing entry for intl travelers

Photo by Yomiuri Shimbun
Airline ground staff hold a sign to welcome international travelers in the arrivals hall of Narita Airport on June 22.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who is visiting New York, announced his intention to increase the number of people entering Japan by lifting the current ban on accepting foreign individual travelers from October 11.

He hopes to attract foreign visitors in the fall, the peak of the tourist season, even taking advantage of the weak yen to use tourism as a catalyst for economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

lawsuits from the business community

“Japan is a country that thrives on the free flow of people, goods and money to and from the rest of the world,” Kishida said in a speech at the New York Stock Exchange on Thursday, stressing the importance of tourists and other visitors to Japan the Japanese economy. He continued, “COVID-19 has temporarily disrupted all of these benefits.” He then announced a drastic relaxation of border control measures.

The country’s border control measures, said to be the strictest among the Group of Seven’s developed nations, have prompted many calls for relaxation from the business community, which claim the country is in a “state of seclusion”.

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From October 11, the limit on entry into Japan that applied to both Japanese and foreigners will be lifted, and the ban on individual travel for foreigners will also be lifted. The visa-free short-stay measures will also be reintroduced. These measures mean February 2020’s restricted entry procedures will be restored to pre-COVID status, a development that drew welcome applause from the investment-related officials who packed the venue.

“It feels like years”

However, the G7 countries other than Japan have already lifted their entry restrictions, so there is no denying that Japan is far behind them in this regard.

In a speech he gave in the UK in May, Kishida announced that from June there would be “as smooth a human entry into Japan as in other G7 countries”. However, with the arrival of the seventh wave of infections, it took another four months for the plan to materialize.

There is a palpable difference between Japan and other G7 countries, not only in border control measures, but also in enthusiasm for “living with the virus,” which describes life’s return to normal even though the novel coronavirus persists.

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During his recent visit to the United States, Kishida and his accompanying officials saw a New York that does not appear to be suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic. Kishida went back and forth between hotels and other places for meetings and talks, but there was a stark contrast between the prime minister and his delegation, who wore masks even outdoors, and US government officials and others, who walked near them without masks .

When then-Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga visited the United States in April 2021, Washington was also on high alert, and when Suga held talks with US President Joe Biden, he was told to wear a medical mask.

This time, Kishida and Biden held maskless conversations, occasionally with faces close together. A companion commented: “It’s only been a year and a half [between the Suga and Kishida visits]but they seem to be many years apart.”

adjustments ahead

In order to increase the number of foreign tourists in Japan, some challenges remain. One area of ​​concern is issues that may be caused by different mask-wearing attitudes. The government plans to urge foreign tourists to wear masks in crowded places, and warn foreigners and Japanese alike not to wear masks outdoors if they can keep their distance from others.

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The limited number of airport quarantine staff has also so far prevented the expansion of entry restrictions.

Because of this, the government is expanding the scope of travelers who are exempt from screening upon entry. Countries and regions around the world are labeled blue, yellow, and red in ascending order of infection risk. Travelers from blue and yellow countries are exempt from pre- and immigration checks if they can prove that they have received a third dose of vaccination. There are currently 128 blue countries or regions, 73 yellow, and no red. A senior official at the Department of Health, Labor and Welfare said the ministry is making rapid preparations but expects that “even if entry restrictions are lifted, the quarantine burden will not increase as much and the current system will be sufficient to deal with it.” to become new situation”.

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