Japan's Kishida pressured over continuing strict border measures

Japan's international arrivals remain capped at 20,000 a day, keeping visitors to a trickle. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

TOKYO (BLOOMBERG) - Prime Minister Fumio Kishida came under pressure to further open Japan's borders, as this month's relaxation of measures against Covid-19 appeared to fall short of a pledge made in London last month.

The country's biggest business lobbies on Friday (June 10) joined with major foreign chambers of commerce to urge Mr Kishida's government to restore visa waivers for business travellers, resume individual tourist travel and eliminate the cap on daily international arrivals, among other measures.

"These additional steps will help to ensure that Japan's entry policies are better aligned with those of G-7 partners and will contribute to a more rapid recovery of Japan's economy," the groups said in a joint statement.

Their request comes after Mr Kishida had told an audience in the City of London in May that he planned to make the entry process for Japan as smooth as other Group of Seven nations in June.

Mr Kishida has gained backing from voters for his cautious stance on opening up amid the pandemic since he took office in October.

Yet recent polls show more want him to focus on rebuilding the economy rather than managing the virus, as infection numbers dwindle weeks ahead of a key Upper House election.

Asked what policy issues they would prioritise in deciding where to place their vote, 83 per cent of respondents to a Yomiuri newspaper poll published on Monday picked the economy, compared with 52 per cent for Covid-19 control.

Friday's statement from the Japan Business Federation, the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the chambers of commerce of the US and other G-7 nations, was released just as Japan officially reopens to foreign tourism after a two-year ban.

But international arrivals remain capped at 20,000 a day, keeping visitors to a trickle.

Tourists are required to obtain visas ahead of travel and are only allowed entry as part of guided package tours.

Japan's largest travel agencies, JTB Corp and KNT-CT Holdings Co, said their first tour groups could arrive in the country by the end of June.

'We expect the gradual booking for a certain number of tours to come after that," a JTB spokesperson said in an e-mail.

Mr Kishida has credited Japan's strict entry policies as helping to control the spread of the virus.

The country has the lowest death rate from the disease among G-7 countries.

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