Japan government adviser to propose letting in tourists

Visitors take photos under illuminated cherry blossoms in full bloom at Ueno Park in Tokyo on March 30, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (BLOOMBERG) - A Japanese government adviser plans to call for reopening the country to tourists amid a recent decline in new Covid-19 infections, the Yomiuri newspaper said, amid calls to ease strict border controls put in place in early 2020.

An unnamed, private-sector member of the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy, which advises Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, is expected to submit the proposal in a meeting on Wednesday (April 27), the Yomiuri reported without saying how it obtained the information.

It was not immediately clear whether the member had the support of the council's other members. The report comes as Japan's hospitality industry has been urging the government to reopen to more overseas visitors.

Until the pandemic, tourism was a rare bright spot for Japan's economy as the number of foreign visitors expanded five-fold between 2011-2019.

Due to strict border measures, the number of foreign visitors slumped from nearly 32 million in 2019 to 250,000 in 2021.

In recent months, Mr Kishida has eased entry restrictions for business travellers and students, and raised the daily cap for international arrivals, amid criticism that Japan's border measures were excessive.

Japan has been spared the worst of the global pandemic in the past two years, with relatively low deaths per capita from Covid-19.

"We're currently seeing Covid starting to settle down here, and the Japanese have started travelling domestically, so my impression is that we're headed for border restrictions to be relaxed in stages," said Mr Tomoaki Kawasaki, an equities analyst at Iwaicosmo Securities.

Countries including South Korea and New Zealand have recently reopened to tourists, although China's borders are effectively sealed as the country pursues a Covid Zero strategy.

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