The government’s decision to move up the launch of its Go To Travel Campaign despite the resurgence of coronavirus infections in Tokyo and other areas is drawing criticism from some local leaders, while others have high hopes for an economic boost from tourism.
Some are calling for a partial rollout, limiting the regions covered. The program, initially planned for early August, is set to kick off on July 22.
“I wonder if it’s is all right for the program to begin nationwide at the same time during this period,” Yamagata Gov. Mieko Yoshimura said. “It will contribute to the economy, but I cannot welcome it entirely.”
Motonobu Nakagawa, mayor of the city of Nara, expressed concern over the movement of people across wide areas. “It is preferable to start the program partially, limiting the areas and keeping the risk of infections in mind,” he said.
Soichiro Miyashita, mayor of the city of Mutsu in Aomori Prefecture, strongly criticized the government decision.
“What we have endured until now will all be lost,” he said.
Miyashita said he is considering closing tourism-related sites and other facilities in the city to discourage visitors.
A senior Iwate Prefecture official said the campaign is needed but that “now is not the time.” Iwate remains the only prefecture with no confirmed COVID-19 cases.
Wakayama Gov. Yoshinobu Nisaka said the tourism boost is necessary.
“It is self-defeating if we say ‘don’t come because of the risks,'” Nisaka said. “We are living even amid the coronavirus epidemic, and we must do business and earn money.”
“All we can do for now is be very, very careful about safety and take measures” to prevent infection in welcoming tourists, he said.
Osaka Mayor Ichiro Matsui said he was weighing the use of free coronavirus antibody tests on people planning to travel to the city.
“Infection can be prevented if people testing negative travel,” he said, adding that he will ask the Osaka Prefectural Government to jointly conduct the free tests.
Tourism minister Kazuyoshi Akaba said Tuesday that businesses participating in the program will be required to take prevention measures against the coronavirus, and those with inadequate measures will be excluded from the discount scheme.
Travelers staying at hotels, ryokan (Japanese-style inns) and other lodging facilities with insufficient coronavirus measures will not receive a discount on their travel costs.
The move to make coronavirus measures mandatory is aimed at addressing concerns that visitors from the Tokyo metropolitan area may bring the virus to destinations around the country.
The campaign “is not just aimed at reviving tourism demand,” Akaba told a news conference, adding, “Promoting a new way of travel that’s safe and secure is also an important goal.”
Meanwhile, some are concerned that the exclusion of businesses with insufficient coronavirus measures from the program could be a source of trouble, with people unable to receive the campaign’s benefits due to using such facilities possibly moving to file complaints, for example.
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