Steady efforts needed to reopen country to tourists from overseas

It is necessary to promote travel to and from other countries to revive economic and social activities, which have been stagnant due to the coronavirus pandemic. Entry restrictions must be reviewed while taking care to prevent the spread of infections.

The government has announced that it will ease pandemic-related border control measures from June, raising the cap on the number of people entering the country per day from 10,000 to 20,000.

The government also intends to ease quarantine measures at the time of entry into Japan, dividing countries and regions into three groups according to infection rates and other factors, with visitors from countries in the lowest infection-rate group being exempt from tests and the isolation period.

“The majority of visitors will be able to enter [Japan] smoothly, just as in other G7 [Group of Seven advanced] countries,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno has stressed.

Japan is the only country among G7 nations that has entry quotas. The government’s latest move is far from a total relaxation of border control measures, but simplifying the entry procedures may be a step forward.

It is hoped that the government will consider further increasing the cap on the number of people entering Japan, while closely monitoring the infection situation overseas and in Japan.

At the end of November last year, the government suspended the entry of nonresident foreigners in principle in response to the spread of the omicron variant of the coronavirus. The measure was initially effective in slowing the influx of the variant into the country, but the negative impact of the border controls became apparent after infections surged. So the restrictions have been eased in stages since March.

As business travel has been restricted, the business community has called on the government for a drastic review of its border control measures, including the removal of the entry quota and the simplification of immigration procedures.

As overseas companies resume full-scale economic activities, a situation must be avoided in which Japanese firms are left behind.

The Japanese government said it will also consider the resumption of entry into Japan for tourism purposes.

It would be the first time in about two years that Japan has allowed tourists from abroad to enter the country. The travel and accommodation industries, which have been hit hard economically by the pandemic, are pinning their hopes on the return of visitors from abroad.

The government will decide whether to reopen the country to tourists from abroad after conducting a feasibility trial with groups of foreign visitors. The Japan Tourism Agency and other entities plan to organize tours for up to four people from the United States, Australia, Thailand and Singapore.

About 10 to 15 tours are being organized under the project. Tour guides from Japanese travel agencies will accompany the visitors to monitor their behavior, ensure that thorough measures are taken to prevent infection and swiftly respond in the event of an infection.

The government intends to compile guidelines for travel and accommodation operators after verifying whether infection control measures and emergency responses were adequate, among other elements.

If it becomes clear that travel agencies and tour participants can prevent the spread of the virus by taking adequate measures, it will give momentum to efforts to increase the number of tourists from abroad.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 25, 2022)