Japan will allow visa-free, independent tourism and abolish a daily arrival cap as of Oct. 11, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Thursday, marking a major policy shift after nearly 2 1/2 years of strict COVID-19 restrictions. The government will also launch a nationwide travel discount program, which had been shelved due to the spread of COVID-19 infections. The Japan Times reports: Kishida made the long-awaited announcement during his visit to New York for the U.N. General Assembly. “I hope many people will utilize it,” Kishida said at a news conference. “I want to support the travel, entertainment and other industries that have been struggling during the coronavirus pandemic.” Japan has been allowing tourists since June, starting with people on guided tours. On Sept. 7, the government allowed those on nonguided tours who had booked their flights and hotels through registered travel agencies. But those measures have been unpopular with many foreign tourists who want greater freedom during their trips.
Tourists will need to be vaccinated three times or submit a negative COVID-19 test result ahead of their trip, Kyodo News reported, citing government sources. A nationwide domestic travel program offering discounts for travel, entry to theme parks, and for sporting events and concerts is also set to start on Oct. 11. People who have been vaccinated three times or submit a negative test result will be eligible for the discounts, according to the report. The program offers financial assistance of up to $77 per person for a one-night stay. The moves will be welcomed by the nation’s tourism sector, which has been hit hard by the pandemic. “In 2019, a record 31.88 million foreign travelers visited Japan, but the figure plummeted to about 250,000 in 2021 due to the closed borders,” notes the report. “The daily arrival cap has been raised gradually over the past six months, first to 5,000 on March 1 and eventually to the current 50,000.”
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