'No plans for now' for Japan to open up to foreign leisure tourists: PM Kishida

Japan aims to attract 60 million tourists a year by 2030. PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO - Japan has no plans for now to open up to foreign leisure travellers, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Friday (April 8).

While many countries around the world have begun to ease border controls, Mr Kishida told a news conference that Japan will make its own "appropriate judgment, though there are no specific timelines".

"We will monitor the domestic infection situation and also the border control measures being taken by other countries in coming to the right decision," he added.

The country, which aims to attract 60 million tourists a year by 2030, has been taking baby steps to loosen border controls.

After imposing a three-month ban due to the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, it began to allow foreigners to enter the country for work and study only last month.

The cap on all arrivals - including returning Japanese citizens and foreign residents - was set at 5,000 people a day from March 1, and raised to 7,000 from March 14. The limit will be upped to 10,000 daily from Sunday.

Mr Kishida, who on Monday marked half a year as Prime Minister, is riding on a wave of popularity, given his leadership in sanctioning Russia over the Ukraine crisis and in taking decisive action in the fight against Covid-19.

A national Upper House election on July 10 - and the fact that his two predecessors were done in by their perceived mismanagement over Covid-19 - would give Mr Kishida cause to err on the side of caution, observers said.

The Prime Minister warned earlier this week that Japan was already seeing the early signs of a seventh Covid-19 wave.

Quasi-emergency restrictions, which began in three prefectures on Jan 9 and was gradually expanded to cover as many as 38 out of Japan's 47 prefectures at one point, were fully lifted on March 21.

There were 51,953 cases nationwide on Friday, including 8,112 in Tokyo, 3,908 in Osaka, and 3,717 in Kanagawa. Miyazaki prefecture in the south-west recorded an all-time peak of 612 cases.

Thirty-two prefectures have reported a week-on-week gain in cases, and the seven-day average nationwide as at Friday was 1.04 times that of last week.

Mr Kishida's government is particularly alarmed by low vaccination rates among young people, and is considering offering discounts for concerts and sporting events to those who had received their booster shots.

It is also planning to roll out vaccination drives at universities.

Cabinet Office data showed that 79.6 per cent of Japan's population have been double-vaccinated as at Friday, with 44.3 per cent of those receiving the booster dose as well.

But 84.3 per cent of those with the booster shot were aged 65 and older, the data showed, indicating a sluggish rate among younger generations.

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