Japan should ease COVID border controls for foreigners: panel members

Japan should aim to normalize its coronavirus travel controls for foreigners as soon as possible, some members of a government panel said Wednesday, calling for a gradual reopening of its borders for tourists to boost the economy.

The government should relax its daily limit on foreign visitors and ease additional immigration procedures needed to enter Japan once such restrictions are confirmed less effective in curbing infection cases, private-sector members of the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy said.

Amid criticism of the country's strict border controls, Japan raised the daily cap on overseas entrants on April 10 from 7,000 to 10,000. Visitors are limited to business people, technical interns and students. The ban on tourists remains.

The four private-sector members, including Masakazu Tokura, who heads Japan's largest business lobby Keidanren, said the government should "gradually resume" accepting inbound tourists to tackle with the diminishing current account surplus caused partly by a plunge in the country's travel balance.

The travel balance posted a 200 billion yen ($1.6 billion) surplus in 2021, dropping from the 2.7 trillion yen logged in the pre-pandemic 2019.

They also proposed the government present the criteria needed for a further relaxation to help potential visitors foresee the easing of government border controls.

The council members include members of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's Cabinet, Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda, and business leaders.

© Kyodo News