Eased COVID measures boosting travel during Japan's Golden Week

With the easing of measures against the coronavirus, Japan's Golden Week holidays have seen travelers, some no longer wearing face masks, crowding train stations and airports, with the growing influx of foreign travelers adding to the bustle.

Experts on infectious diseases, however, are calling on elderly people and those with underlying conditions to protect themselves from the virus by wearing masks and taking other countermeasures.

Shinkansen bullet trains, airplanes and expressways reached peak congestion Wednesday, the first day of the five-day weekend, with more people enjoying long trips this year.

The festive mood has also been boosted by the government's decision to reclassify the virus as an infectious disease on par with the seasonal flu next Monday, paving the way for the full normalization of social and economic activities.

"I want to show my child's face to my family and have a relaxing time," said Satomi Kuroiwa at JR Tokyo Station before heading to Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture.

Asano Hagiwara was carrying her 5-month-old baby as she traveled to her parents-in-law's home in Fukushima Prefecture. "I bought tickets a month ago. Seats got booked out quickly."

Shin-Osaka Station in western Japan was also crowded.

Kotomi Arimura, pulling a suitcase with three children, said, "My husband is away at work. But we are looking forward to having a barbecue at my parents' house in Fukuoka."

The international departure lobby at Narita airport near Tokyo was bustling with travelers, with many lining up at currency exchange counters.

Mizue Tachihara, who was on a trip to Taiwan, welcomed the government's lifting of border measures for COVID-19, saying, "It makes it easier to return to Japan."

According to Japan Railway companies, reserved seats were filled on some bullet trains, while carriages with unreserved seats were overcrowded with occupancy reaching 180 percent at Nagoya Station on the Tokaido Shinkansen Line.

All Nippon Airways said its domestic flights from Tokyo's Haneda airport were almost fully booked, while Japan Airlines said 90 percent of its flights departing the capital were sold out.

Expressways were also congested, with a traffic jam as long as 54 kilometers observed near an interchange in Saitama Prefecture, north of Tokyo, on the Kanetsu Expressway.

Congestion due to people returning to Tokyo is expected to peak on Saturday for trains, between Saturday and Sunday for planes, and Friday for expressways, operators said.

© Kyodo News