TOKYO (BLOOMBERG) - Japan is set to experiment with opening its borders to small groups of vaccinated foreign tourists as soon as this month, Fuji News Network reported, in a potential lifeline for the country's ailing travel industry.
Those wishing to visit must have undergone three Covid-19 vaccination shots and be part of a package tour with a fixed itinerary, FNN said on Friday (May 6), citing multiple government officials.
The limited resumption of inbound tourism will be treated as an experiment and, if infections do not spread, the programme would be expanded, it said.
The report came a day after Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said in a speech in London that he planned to relax pandemic-related border restrictions in line with other wealthy democracies from June. He later added a note of caution, telling reporters he needed to look at the state of infections after a series of public holidays in late April and early May known as Golden Week.
Border easing would be welcomed by Japan's tourism industry, which has been urging the government to allow in more overseas visitors to take advantage of the weakening yen. Until the pandemic, inbound travel was a rare bright spot for Japan's economy as the number of foreign visitors expanded five-fold between 2011 and 2019.
"As soon as June, based on the opinions of experts, we will review coronavirus regulations, including border policies, in stages," Mr Kishida said late on Thursday. "We are still in a period of transition back to normal life."
While Mr Kishida didn't mention masks, the government advises using them and the overwhelming majority of Japanese continue to wear them, both indoors and out.
Several tourism-related stocks gained on the news. Japan Airlines climbed as much as 4.5 per cent, while Japan Airport Terminal surged 6.8 per cent. Travel agency HIS, a sector bellwether, erased a morning loss and rose as much as 2.7 per cent.
"Japan was very slow in the economic recovery compared to the US on 'living with the virus', so in that sense, the reopening of Japan will help to boost expectations for inbound recovery," said Ms Ayako Sera, a market strategist at Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Bank.
The impact of the opening up may be muted by the fact that China, the largest source of tourists before the pandemic, has effectively closed its borders.
Mr Kishida slammed Japan's borders shut to non-resident foreigners in November, a move that polls showed was widely supported by the public as the omicron variant spread rapidly.
While new entry is now allowed for foreign students and businesspeople, he has retained a cap of 10,000 arrivals from overseas per day and until now excluded tourists.
His cautious stance - which he credits for helping keep Japan's virus death rate low - has helped bolster his public support ahead of a key upper house election set to be held in July.
Japan is looking at doubling the daily entry cap to 20,000 and accepting overseas tourists from June, the Nikkei newspaper reported, citing unnamed sources.