The curious reopening of Japan to tourism: only for 50 lucky people from 4 countries and with drivers who will follow in their footsteps

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The curious reopening of Japan to tourism: only for 50 lucky people from 4 countries and with drivers who will follow in their footsteps

Japan will receive international tourists again starting next week but still with great restrictions. EFE/EPA/FRANCK ROBICHON/File

Japan is preparing to reopen its borders for tourists since the start of the pandemic, something that will surely be very pleasantly received by world travelers, but which has particular conditions

According to the Japanese authorities, in principle, they will only allow travelers from four designated countries to enter: Australia, Singapore, Thailand and the United States. The reason is that they are considered priority markets for Japan.

The second restriction is that only 50 people will be able to enter, divided into groups of approximately four, all of whom must have all three vaccinations.

And furthermore, visitors will be under constant surveillance by an assigned caretaker.

“They will be monitoring the group’s actions and emphasizing basic COVID-19 prevention measures,” said Tatsuya Fujioka, director of the new market development office at the Japan Tourism Agency’s International Tourism Department.

The department did not say how the lucky 50 would be chosen.

While much of the world has opened its borders just in time for summer touristsJapan has been slower to lift the strict restrictions it put in place at the start of the pandemic.

In February 2020, Japan introduced a complete ban on the entry of foreign countries, fearing that international travel could lead to a massive spike in domestic COVID-19 cases and overwhelm its medical facilities.

Originally scheduled for November, the controlled tourism experiment was delayed by the Omicron wave and will instead start next week.

Before the pandemic, Japan was one of the main destinations for world tourism.  (Photo by Kyodo News/Sipa USA)
Before the pandemic, Japan was one of the main destinations for world tourism. (Photo by Kyodo News/Sipa USA)

Details of the places the tourists will visit have not yet been decided, Fujioka said. But visitors can expect a fixed schedule like an organized school trip, with the caretaker accompanying them. “They are likely to eat together and then travel to designated tourist spots”the official told Vice.

The caregiver will also be responsible for making sure no one in the group has COVID-19, by monitoring symptoms and recording temperatures every morning, Fujioka said.

Like other incoming travelers, tourists will also need to download COCOA and MySOS, two apps that track users’ health and movements. Although they haven’t decided what actions to take if someone runs away from the group tour, Fujioka imagined it would be a “big deal.”

“Before they enter Japan, we will ask them to sign an agreement form acknowledging that they understand the rules of this experiment and that they will follow the caretaker’s guidance.” said.

Those who participate in the fixed group tours will also enter Japan not on a tourist visa, but on a special visa. Travelers will be exempt from self-isolation upon arrivalas they are vaccinated three times and come from countries that are not on Japan’s designated quarantine list.

According to tourism agency estimates, just over 100,000 non-tourists arrived in Japan from January to March. That’s a nearly 99 percent decrease compared to the same period in 2019, when more than 8 million people entered Japan.

Although tourism has been slow to return to pre-pandemic levels, since March Japan has gradually begun to open up to business travelers and some international students. There is a daily limit of 10,000 people, although the government is considering doubling the number.

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