Japan finally opens up to visitors as infection rates drop

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Japan Racing Association

In Japan, since June 1, 20,000 people are now allowed to enter each day.

On the same day, travelers from low-risk countries with proof of vaccination were also allowed to enter the country without taking a PCR test at the airport or going through quarantine.

Countries and regions have been divided into three groups, based on risk factors such as rates of positive test results on arrival in the past. They are color coded blue, yellow and red respectively, ranging from low risk to high risk.

Previously, starting March 1, a small number of business travelers, interns and students were gradually allowed to enter the country. Quarantine measures, which had been in place since the start of the pandemic at all international airports, have evolved with the changes.

On March 14 and April 10, the daily admission cap was raised to 7,000 and 10,000 respectively, but incoming travelers were still limited to business and students ー and a test case of 50 tourists. Authorities said they were making the decisions while keeping tabs on the infection situation in Japan and around the world. Government officials also said the percentage of people vaccinated in Japan was key in deciding whether to open borders, as 81.8% of the entire population received their second vaccine and 59.4% the booster.

Going forward, the government plans to raise the daily entry cap to 30,000 from July, according to reports from Jiji News.

Limited test rides

Under the new rules, small package tours are organized in prefectures that are currently exempt from COVID-19 emergency measures. Prefectural governments must also commit to accepting them during the trial phase.

Since May 24, around 50 tourists from low-risk countries, the United States, Australia, Singapore and Thailand have been allowed to travel across the country in small groups of around 4 each. Attendees consisted of company employees and others invited to participate in tours across Japan. During their travels, they were asked to take extensive measures to prevent COVID-19 infection, including wearing masks. These test cases were to help authorities identify remaining problems before fully reopening the country to international tourism.

The test visit has been canceled

One of the cases of inbound travel packages tested was canceled on May 31 when one of the 4 participating Thais was found to have contracted COVID-19.

The infected traveler complained of a sore throat on May 30 and tested positive the same day in Oita Prefecture. Although he did not have a fever, the individual was to be quarantined in a repurposed facility until the infection cleared. An investigation into the matter is being carried out by the authorities and the travel agency that organized the tour.

The other three participants were considered close contacts, but all tested negative and were isolated in a hotel, the agency said.

Upcoming visits

From June 10, Japan will allow travelers from 98 countries and regions, but will initially limit them to guided tours to reduce the potential spread of infection.

Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, Hirokazu Matsuno, told a press conference on May 31 that the infection of one of the test cases had not affected the country’s plan to double its entry limit. daily to 20,000 from June 1.

Additionally, Matsuno said the government would review the response and reflect it in infection control guidelines, based on the latest case.

Tourism Minister Tetsuo Saito added on May 31 that the government would urge travel agents to obtain consent from tour participants to adhere to Japan’s infection prevention measures, such as wearing masks during tours.

Masks on, masks off

A new Basic Response Policy on COVID-19 announced by the Japanese government on May 23 provides brand new guidelines for residents and visitors on wearing masks. It defines the situations where people should continue to wear a face covering and others where it is not mandatory, rather than recommending masks in all public places as has been the case since the start of the pandemic. .

Under the new guidelines, masks are not required outdoors except when talking to a loved one. In summer, it is recommended to remove your mask to avoid heatstroke.

Indoors, masks are not necessary as long as people are not talking and maintaining a distance of at least two meters from each other.

Masks are still necessary in some situations

It should be noted that the new policy maintains that “there is no change in the fact that masks are a fundamental means of preventing the spread of infection”.

The use of masks is always required when visiting the elderly or anyone in hospital, during rush hour on public transport and anywhere there are many people.

Additionally, other infection prevention measures such as frequent hand washing and avoiding close contact remain crucial.

Japan’s mask-wearing policy has been seen by some observers as key in the country’s limiting the spread of COVID-19 infection.

It should be emphasized that private facilities and institutions retain the right to determine their own mask requirements.

Outdoors, inside gyms and in swimming pools, masks are also not necessary.

Individual sports associations are responsible for establishing their own policies for extracurricular activities.

Look closely

National and local government leaders say they will further assess easing COVID restrictions while keeping a close eye on the infection situation.

Japan’s COVID-19 infection rate has fared quite well compared to other countries, and there has been a downward trend in infections since mid-April.

On June 1, 22,768 new infections were reported nationwide. In Japan, deaths also remained fairly low, with 36 COVID-related deaths recorded on June 1.

The slow reopening of Asia?

In the background, the travel and tourism industry is going through a difficult period.

While freedom to travel has largely returned to Europe and the United States, Asia has been the slowest continent to welcome tourism back, analysts say.

“Asia is still struggling,” said Ejaz Ahmed, travel and tourism research analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), sharing his views during a webinar on June 1.

“Blanket travel bans imposed by several countries including Australia, New Zealand and Japan during the waves of COVID are only lifting, and that has held back the recovery,” Ahmed said.

China, the largest pre-pandemic source of international departures, also still has its borders closed, as well as a zero-COVID policy.

Ahmed pointed out that Southeast Asia’s tourism economy is also slow to recover, as countries in the region were major markets for Japanese and Chinese travelers before the pandemic.

Japan is finally set to allow international tourists into the country from June 10 for the first time since April 2020. Yet the openings Japan will experience are still limited to guided tours. And for all travelers, a PCR test with a negative result is always required before coming to Japan.

Japan welcomed more than 30 million visitors in 2019, but fewer than 250,000 foreign visitors crossed its borders in 2021. Measures which come into force on June 10 suggest there is progress, but it will take some time before Japan reverts to pre-pandemic international tourism freedom.

Impacts of the war in Ukraine

There are also other external aggravating factors. The war in Ukraine is impacting international flights as airspace over Russia is closed to Western airlines due to sanctions. Additionally, most airlines avoid flying over Ukraine for fear of missile strikes.

As Ana Nicholls, EIU Industry Director of Operations, explained in the June 1 webinar: “Many major east-west routes are now impossible, forcing airlines to fly north or south.”

Rerouting means flights take longer, use more fuel, require more personnel and are more expensive. The London-Tokyo flight is 2.5 hours longer than before the war in Ukraine, and Helsinki-Tokyo is four hours longer.

The EIU estimates that extra time increases costs for airlines on average between 8,000 and 15,000 EUR per hour (8,546-16,000 USD), or 100 € EUR (106 USD) per passenger in a fully loaded flight. ability.

Add to that widespread inflation and rising fuel costs ー on average more than 80% compared to 2021. Additionally, fuel accounts for 20-30% of the airline’s costs, Nicholls says.

Nicholls concedes, however: “So far, international travelers do not seem deterred [from taking flights]they absorb the costs and the queues, but that makes recovery all the more difficult for the airlines.

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Author: Shaun Fernando, Arielle Busetto

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