Japan to accept small-scale tours from 4 countries as it opens up

Japan will accept small-scale tours for vaccinated tourists from the United States, Australia, Thailand and Singapore as a trial later this month toward the full-scale reception of foreign visitors planned for June, the government said Tuesday.

Japan has closed its borders to foreign tourists since the early stage of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. But it has been relaxing its travel restrictions in phases since March, accepting businesspeople, technical interns and students, as the COVID-19 situation has improved.

During the trial phase, small groups would go on fixed package tours limited to areas where prefectural governments have agreed to accept them so that their activities can be managed.

Only visitors who have had three COVID-19 shots will be able to participate, according to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism.

The trial will allow the government to see if it can grasp people's movements and learn how to respond if a COVID-19 case is detected, in the event of a full border opening.

The tourism ministry will compile guidelines on infection control measures for travel agencies and lodging facilities.

Currently 10,000 people a day are allowed to enter Japan, but the government is considering doubling the cap to 20,000 in June.

"International travel is extremely important for economic activities and regional revitalization," tourism minister Tetsuo Saito said at a press conference.

Amid COVID-19 travel restrictions, the number of foreign visitors to Japan in 2021 dropped 99.2 percent from the pre-pandemic year of 2019 to a record-low 245,900.

© Kyodo News