Tourists visiting Japan can be sent home if they fail to follow rules requiring them to wear masks, thoroughly sanitize their hands and take out private health insurance, according to guidelines set by the government ahead of the cautious reopening and progressive from the Japanese border. Travel agencies will be required to explain the rules and book tours only for customers who have agreed to abide by them. This will include a warning that tourists could be asked to leave Japan if they disobey the rules.
The guidelines, announced by the government tourism agency on Tuesday, are part of an effort to revive inbound tourism following the closure of borders in early 2020. (Also read: Japan, wary of foreign ‘bad manners’, cautiously loosens borders to help tourism)
The island nation is set to allow package visitors from June 10. Although a limit on arrivals from abroad is being doubled to 20,000 people a day, this is only a trickle from pre-pandemic visitor levels. As some businesses and lawmakers call on the country to end the daily cap, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s administration has also been keen to project a tough stance on Covid-19 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 in designated seats in restaurants. Travel agents should plan tours that avoid crowds, keep movement records and escort people who test positive for Covid and close contacts to isolation facilities.
The rule is not based on scientific evidence and is extremely hostile to travellers, said Kenji Shibuya, epidemiologist and research director at the Tokyo Foundation for Policy Research. Japan has now acquired high immunity against Covid and can further relax its infection controls to boost social activities, he said.
“The government treats Japanese and foreign tourists differently, and the differences cannot be explained scientifically,” Shibuya said. “There is no evidence that being accompanied by tour guides reduces the risk of infection. In endemic situations, it should be left to individuals to manage their own risk.
Last month, Japan relaxed its mask guidelines to note that masks aren’t always necessary outdoors. Still, most Japanese people continue to wear masks when outdoors. They are still recommended in crowded places or when having conversations outdoors, as well as in most indoor spaces and on public transport, according to the Department of Health.
Reopening Japan involves allowing entry from countries and regions with low levels of infection. They will be divided into three categories – red, yellow and blue – based on their assessed virus risk, according to the Foreign Office.
Travelers arriving from the 98 countries or regions on the blue list will be able to bypass quarantine as long as they pass a Covid test before departure, according to the Foreign Ministry. Those on the yellow list will also need proof of vaccination to avoid quarantine.
Japan has fared relatively well during the pandemic, with the lowest death rate per 100,000 among G-7 countries, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
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