Japan eases Covid test rule, but strict travel restrictions remain

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TOKYO – Japan said on Wednesday it would end a requirement for vaccinated travelers to undergo a coronavirus test to enter the country, a gradual step towards reviving a hard-hit tourism industry but comes as restrictions others continue to hinder visitors.

After enacting some of the strictest border measures during the pandemic, Japan has gradually allowed non-residents to visit. But tourists are still not allowed in unless they are part of an authorized tour group, their every move closely watched by a licensed guide.

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

How to navigate Japan’s mandatory tours, travel restrictions and coronavirus protocols

Among those steps is raising the limit on daily logins, currently at 20,000, but Kishida did not give a specific figure. Japanese broadcaster NHK reported on Wednesday that the government is considering removing the requirement that tourists entering as part of a group tour 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 going to Japan must take a coronavirus test within 72 hours before leaving the country, register the result with the government and receive 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.

Starting September 7, Japan will remove testing requirements for adult travelers who have had three vaccinations, Kishida said, speaking from his residence during a remote news conference after he tested positive for the virus.

Tom Cruise in Japan? Good. Ordinary tourists in Japan? It is wrong.

Group tours resumed in June after a trial, but those visitors are subject to many restrictions, including booking a tour with a guide or government-registered company and purchasing travel insurance.

That same month, only 252 tourists entered the country, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization. In July, the number rose to about 7,900. But this is a far cry from pre-pandemic levels; Japan welcomed a record 32 million foreign tourists in 2019 and had 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 revive the economy and that American tourists would be eager to take advantage of your weakness. Travel-related spending by foreigners fell from about $38 billion in 2019 to just under $1 billion in 2021, according to Nikkei Asia.

However, it remains unclear when a full reopening will take place.

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