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Japan eases foreign tourism ban

TOKYO (AP) – Japan yesterday eased its borders for foreign tourists and began accepting visa applications, but only for those on guided package tours willing to follow mask-wearing and other antivirus measures as the country cautiously tries to balance business and infection worries.

Yesterday was the first day to start procedures needed for the entry and arrivals are not expected until late June at the earliest, even though airport immigration and quarantine offices stood by for any possible arrivals.

The Japan Tourism Agency said tours are being accepted from 98 countries and regions, including the United States (US), Britain, China, South Korea, Thailand and Singapore, which are deemed as having low infection risks.

Japan’s partial resumption of international tourism halted during the coronavirus pandemic is being carried out under guidelines based on an experiment conducted in late May. It involved about 50 participants, mostly tour agency employees from Australia, Singapore, Thailand and the US.

In one case, a tour for a four-member group was cancelled when one of the participants tested positive for COVID-19 after arriving in Japan.

A Geisha woman in traditional Japanese ‘kimono’ walks along a shopping street at the Asakusa district, Tokyo. PHOTO: AP

“We expect the resumption of inbound tourism will help stimulate the local economy,” Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Tetsuo Saito told reporters yesterday. “We will continue to make effort to recover demand for tourism while balancing anti-infection measures and social and economic activities.”

Under the guidelines, participants are requested to wear face masks most of the time and to purchase insurance to cover medical costs in case they contract COVID-19. The rules don’t set a cap for the number of people in one group, but tour guides must be present throughout the tour.

Japan is still reporting over 10,000 new COVID-19 cases daily, though the number in Tokyo is below 2,000.

The latest mask wearing rules call for people to wear them on public transport systems, in hospitals and other public facilities. People can doff their masks outdoors when others are not around or talking loudly.

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