Travel restrictions

Japan relaxes covid testing rule, but strict travel restrictions remain

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TOKYO — Japan announced on Wednesday it would end the requirement for vaccinated travelers to take a coronavirus test to enter the country, a gradual step toward reviving a hard-hit tourism industry, but it comes while other restrictions continue to deter visitors.

After adopting some of the strictest border measures during the pandemic, Japan is gradually allowing non-residents to travel. But tourists are still not allowed entry unless they are part of an authorized tour group, with their every move closely monitored by a licensed guide.

Many Asian countries continue to impose quarantine or testing rules for international arrivals, but Japan’s restrictions were out of step with others in major Group of Seven economies. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Wednesday that Japan would continue to ease border control measures in stages, “to allow smooth entry into Japan in a manner similar to other G-7 countries.”

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Among those steps was raising the cap on daily participants, currently at 20,000, but Kishida did not give a specific figure. Japanese broadcaster NHK reported on Wednesday that the government is considering lifting the requirement for tourists entering as part of a group tour to be accompanied by a guide at all times.

International students, some business travelers and family members of Japanese residents are allowed to enter the country. Currently, anyone traveling to Japan must take a coronavirus test within 72 hours before leaving for the country, register the result with the government and obtain a QR code for immigration. Japan requires a nucleic acid amplification test, such as a PCR test, which tends to be less accessible and more expensive than rapid home antigen tests.

From September 7, Japan will lift the testing requirement for boosted travelers who have received three vaccines, Kishida said, speaking from his residence in a remote press conference after testing positive for the virus.

Tom Cruise in Japan? OK. Ordinary tourists in Japan? Not good.

Group tours resumed in June after a trial run, but such visitors are subject to numerous restrictions, including booking a tour with a guide or a government-registered company and taking out travel insurance.

That same month, only 252 tourists entered the country, according to Japan’s National Tourism Organization. In July, the number rose to around 7,900. But that’s a far cry from pre-pandemic levels; Japan welcomed a record 32 million foreign tourists in 2019 and aimed to reach 40 million in 2020.

For months, business leaders and tourism industry groups have called on Japan to fully reopen its borders, arguing that it would bring in much-needed revenue to reinvigorate the economy and American tourists would be eager to take advantage of. the weakness of the yen. Travel spending by foreigners fell from about $38 billion in 2019 to just under $1 billion in 2021, according to Nikkei Asia.

It is unclear, however, when a full reopening would take place.