Japan to let in foreign tourists, but only if masked and accompanied by chaperone | Japan

Foreign tourists visiting Japan will be required to wear masks and spend their entire stay accompanied by local guides, as the country prepares to open up to international travelers after two years of Covid-19 border restrictions.

People who have been patiently waiting for the chance to visit Japan, which imposed some of the toughest travel restrictions during the pandemic, will also have to take out private medical insurance in case they get the virus, the government said this week.

An important source of income before the Covid-19 pandemic began in early 2020, tourism will look very different when a limited number of people are allowed to enter Japan from Friday.

Only visitors on package tours will be allowed in the first phase, said the Japan Tourism Agency (JTA), adding that travel agency guides who accompany visitors must ensure that they wear masks.

It will be a minor problem for people from other Asian countries where mask use has been widely accepted during the pandemic, but potentially problematic for those from countries that no longer have mask mandates and where their use has created political controversy.

“Tour guides should often remind tour participants of necessary infection prevention measures, including the use and removal of masks, at each stage of the tour,” JTA said in its guidelines. “Even outdoors, the use of masks should continue in situations where people are talking in the immediate vicinity.”

While the Japanese government has eased the guidelines on the use of masks, most people still use face coatings, even outdoors. Visitors will be expected to cover indoors and observe social distancing when taking off their masks outdoors.

“To resume inbound tourism, it is important that the places where tourists visit are willing to accept them and feel safe,” said Tourism Minister Tetsuo Saito, according to the Japan Times.

“If travel agencies and others follow the guidelines, incoming tourism will resume steadily and lead to a further increase in visitors.”

Entry will initially be restricted to people from 98 “low-risk” countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, China, South Korea, Indonesia and Thailand, according to the Kyodo news agency.

But they can expect to be accompanied throughout the trip, while travel agents have been asked to prepare itineraries that avoid crowded places. Visitors who test positive for Covid-19 will be monitored at medical facilities until they return home.

Last month, Japan conducted test trips with groups of around 50 people – most of whom were travel agents – with one participant testing positive for Covid-19.

James Jang, a travel agent from Australia who took part in one of the test trips, said the rules may deter anyone from planning a trip to Japan in the near future.

“Customers will be OK with wearing a mask indoors, but wearing them 24 hours is a problem,” Jang said. “The cost of having a guide at all times can deter clients until later, when they have more flexibility.”

In response to criticism of Japan’s tough travel restrictions, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has said he wants the country’s borders to be as open as other G7 countries.

But it may take some time before Japan returns to the days of mass tourism, as visitors will be included in a limit of 20,000 on daily arrivals at the moment.

The year before the pandemic began, nearly 32 million people visited Japan, spending $ 4.81 billion ($ 36.28 billion), and the government had set a goal of attracting 60 million visitors by 2030.

With Reuters