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File photo. Picture: 123RF/TRANIKOV STUDIO
File photo. Picture: 123RF/TRANIKOV STUDIO

Tourists visiting Japan may be sent home if they fail to abide by rules requiring them to wear masks, sanitise their hands thoroughly and buy private health insurance, according to guidelines set by the government ahead of the cautious, gradual reopening of Japan’s borders.

Travel companies will be required to explain the rules and book tours only for customers who have agreed to comply. That will include a warning that the tourists could be asked to leave Japan if they disobey the rules. The guidelines, announced by the government’s tourism agency on Tuesday, are part of an effort to restart inbound tourism after the borders closed in early 2020.

The island nation is set to allow package-tour visitors from June 10. Though a limit on arrivals from overseas will be doubled to 20,000 people a day, that is just a trickle compared with pre-pandemic visitor levels. While some businesses and legislators are calling for the country to end the daily cap, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s administration has also been keen to project a strict-on-Covid-19 stance ahead of upper house elections in July. 

Under the proposed guidelines, tested last month with a limited number of tour groups, visitors will be asked to sit at designated seats in restaurants. Travel agents should plan tours that avoid crowds, keep records of movements and accompany those testing positive for Covid and close contacts to facilities for isolation.

The rule is not based on scientific evidence and is unfriendly to travellers, said Kenji Shibuya, an epidemiologist and research director at the Tokyo Foundation for Policy Research. Japan has acquired high immunity against Covid and can further ease its infection controls to boost social activities, he said.

“The government is treating Japanese and foreign tourists differently and the differences can’t be scientifically explained,” said Shibuya. “There’s no evidence that being accompanied by tour guides will lower the risks of infection. In endemic situations, it should be left to individuals to manage their own risks.” 

Last month, Japan softened its mask guidance to note that masks are not always necessary outdoors. Still, most people in Japan continue to wear masks when outside. They are still recommended when in crowded places or during conversations outdoors, as well as in most indoor spaces and on public transport, according to the health ministry.

Japan’s reopening involves allowing entry from countries and regions where infection levels are low. They will be divided into three categories — red, yellow and blue — depending on their assessed virus risk, according to the foreign ministry.

Travellers arriving from the 98 countries or regions on the blue list will be able to bypass quarantine as long as they pass a pre-departure Covid test, according to the foreign ministry. Those on the yellow list will also require proof of vaccination to skip quarantine. 

Japan has fared relatively well during the pandemic, with the lowest mortality rate per 100,000 among G7 countries, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com


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