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Japan to Fully Reopen in October, as Asian Holdouts Dwindle

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TOKYO — Nearly two and a half years after it instituted a few of the world’s tightest pandemic-related border controls, Japan said on Thursday that it will finally welcome back most tourists next month because it seeks to revitalize its once lucrative travel industry.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who’s in Latest York for the U.N. General Assembly, said that on Oct. 11, Japan would remove numerical limits on day by day arrivals and begin allowing tourists — who had been forced to rearrange visits and receive visas through travel agencies — to maneuver freely throughout the country.

“People around the globe have been asking ‘when can we travel to Japan,” Mr. Kishida said during a reception, based on the general public broadcaster NHK. “Now, I hope they’ll make plans to go to Japan and get a taste of Japanese cuisine.”

The announcement got here as two other major Asian holdouts were also moving to lift a few of their last border restrictions. Taiwan said on Thursday that it will end a compulsory three-day quarantine for visitors by Oct. 13 on the earliest. Hong Kong was expected to announce an analogous step on Friday, its biggest move toward living with Covid-19.

When the pandemic hit in early 2020, Japan was quick to slam its borders shut, locking out virtually everyone who wasn’t a citizen. Reopening the borders, nevertheless, has been a drawn-out process, taken in increments long after nearly all other major nations had fully reopened.

The choice to throw open the borders comes as Covid cases in Japan have dropped to their lowest numbers in months, and because the country’s currency hovers around its weakest level against the dollar in nearly 1 / 4 century.

While the yen’s plunge has been painful for domestic consumers, the federal government hopes it can make Japan a sexy destination for tourists on the lookout for a bargain. On Friday, the yen — which has fallen greater than 20 percent over the past yr — hovered around 142 to the dollar.

Over the past decade, international tourism has develop into an increasingly necessary industry for Japan, which heavily promoted travel to the country within the lead-up to the Tokyo Olympics, originally scheduled for August 2020 but held a yr later.

Greater than 30 million international tourists visited Japan in 2019, around triple the number from six years before, based on government data.

When the pandemic hit, the country barred virtually all travel from abroad, making it nearly unimaginable to acquire a visa for any purpose, including business. A whole lot of 1000’s of foreign residents who had built lives within the country found themselves locked out for months, separating couples and families.

After vaccinations became available, the country began a tentative reopening. Limited travel for business and study resumed this spring. Tourism, nevertheless, was largely limited to individuals who participated in strictly controlled package tours.

Whilst business leaders pressed the federal government to completely reopen, arguing that Japan was damaging itself by lagging the remaining of the Group of seven developed nations in lifting restrictions, officials moved slowly, with public opinion polls showing support for the tight borders.

Some critics said the federal government’s decision to maintain restrictions in place was based on politics, not science, and warned that Japan was descending into the kind of isolation that had marked earlier periods of its history.

Now, the reopening could unleash a flood of pent-up travel demand, providing a much-needed jolt to the country’s hard-hit travel and hospitality sectors.

But inbound tourism is unlikely to approach prepandemic levels anytime soon. Chinese tourists, who accounted for around 30 percent of inbound tourism in 2019, are severely limited of their ability to travel under Beijing’s strict anti-Covid policies. China is the last major country to maintain its borders largely shut in an effort to eliminate the virus.

Domestically, Japan plans to encourage tourism by offering government-subsidized discounts to Japanese residents for hotels, restaurants and a few sorts of entertainment, Mr. Kishida said. It’s a revival of a plan, referred to as “Go to Travel,” that his predecessor, Yoshihide Suga, introduced in an effort to assist domestic tourism after it was worn out within the pandemic’s early months.

Travelers who want to enter Japan need to indicate proof that they’ve received three shots of a coronavirus vaccine or provide evidence of a negative test taken not more than 72 hours before departing for Japan.

Hisako Ueno contributed reporting.

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