TOKYO (AP) — Japan on Friday eased its borders for foreign tourists and began accepting applications, but only for those on organized package tours who are willing to comply with mask-wearing and other anti-virus measures as the country carefully tries to balance business and infection concerns . .
Friday is the first day entry procedures begin and arrival is not expected before the end of June, although the airport’s immigration and quarantine services are ready to accommodate any possible arrivals.
The Japan Tourism Agency says tours are accepted from 98 countries and regions, including the US, UK, China, South Korea, Thailand, and Singapore, which are considered low-risk countries.
The partial resumption of international tourism in Japan is in line with recommendations based on an experiment conducted at the end of May. It was attended by about 50 participants, mostly employees of travel agencies from Australia, Singapore, Thailand and the United States.
In one case, a tour for a group of four was canceled when one of the members tested positive for COVID-19 after arriving in Japan.
As per the guidelines, participants are asked to wear face masks most of the time and to purchase insurance to cover medical expenses in case they contract COVID-19. The rules do not limit the number of people in one group, but guides must be present throughout the tour.
Faced with criticism for xenophobic strict border controls, Japan began easing restrictions earlier this year. On June 1, it doubled the daily entry limit to 20,000 people per day, including Japanese citizens, international students and some business travelers.
Currently, the daily limit will include package tour participants, and officials say it will be some time before foreign visitors can come to Japan for free solo tourism.
Inbound tourism business in Japan has ground to a halt during the pandemic, and while the country welcomes tourists and their spending, concerns remain among the Japanese about contagion, especially in popular tourist destinations.
Unlike most Western countries where…