Japan allows mass tourism, but only for tour groups

Japan announced Thursday that it will reopen to tourists from 98 countries and regions from June 10, ending a two-year pandemic shutdown, but travelers will only be allowed with tour groups.

The decision comes after the government said last week it would test allowing small-group tours with visitors from the United States, Australia, Thailand and Singapore starting this month.

The government on Thursday overhauled border controls to resume accepting package holidays from 98 countries and regions, including Britain, the United States, France, Spain, Canada and Malaysia .

Japan will also increase the number of airports that accept international flights to seven, adding Naha in its southern Okinawa prefecture and New Chitose near Sapporo in northern Hokkaido.

For most of the pandemic, Japan banned all tourists and allowed entry only to foreign citizens and residents, though even the latter were periodically excluded.

All arrivals must test negative before traveling to Japan and many must be tested again upon arrival, although people who have been triple-immunized from certain countries can skip the additional test as well as a three-day quarantine required for others.

Tour groups should take responsibility for ensuring visitors adhere to Japan’s near-universal mask-wearing and other measures that have helped keep the Covid-19 toll relatively low.

It’s unclear how many people will be able to take advantage of the cautious reopening, as Japan plans to double a daily entry cap, but only to 20,000.

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.

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.

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