Japan to test group tours to ease Covid border rules

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Tokyo (AFP) – Japan will test small-group tours with travelers from the United States, Australia, Thailand and Singapore starting this month, the government announced on Tuesday, as it experiments with easing strict rules of Covid at borders.

The country’s borders have been closed to almost all arrivals since spring 2020 in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Authorities have only recently started allowing some students and business visitors to enter.

There are no plans to completely lift border restrictions, as other countries have done, with the trial only involving tourists from the four countries joining package tours with pre-determined itineraries, according to the Japan Tourism Agency.

“Japanese travel agencies will organize the tours and local guides will accompany them,” an agency official told AFP.

Participants must be triple vaccinated against Covid and have private medical insurance.

There will be no changes to the current testing requirements to enter Japan, with visitors having to submit a negative Covid test taken 72 hours before departure and again upon arrival.

The agency is currently discussing the plan with regions likely to be of interest to foreign tourists, the official said.

The number of tourists who will be able to participate in each visit remains to be determined.

The trial was originally scheduled for late last year, but was put on hold when the Omicron variant caught on.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has said he wants to ease border control measures, but the measures are expected to roll out slowly, with strong public support for the current restrictions.

A daily cap on people entering the country would be doubled to 20,000 next month, although tour groups are not expected to be counted in the figure, local media said.

Japan welcomed a record 31.9 million overseas visitors in 2019 and was on track to hit its 2020 target of 40 million before the pandemic hit.

Elna M. Lemons