With coronavirus cases rising in Tokyo and Osaka, the government will exclude travel to and from Tokyo in its Go To Travel campaign slated to kick off next Wednesday, tourism minister Kazuyoshi Akaba said Thursday.
Speaking to reporters at the Prime Minister’s Office, Akaba, minister of land, infrastructure, transport and tourism, said the government will launch the campaign as planned under those conditions.
“We will be excluding from the campaign those who are making Tokyo their tourist destination and those who reside in Tokyo traveling outside the prefecture,” he said.
A government subcommittee on coronavirus response late Thursday night approved the policy change, saying that the campaign should not apply in travel involving Tokyo “for the time being.” It could include Tokyo once the rate of infection slows down, said Shigeru Omi, who heads the subcommittee.
The subcommittee proposed the Go To Travel campaign to be incorporated as an opportunity to adopt a “new lifestyle” in traveling, urging travelers to avoid the “three Cs” — closed spaces, crowded places and close-contact settings — at their destinations and to refrain from taking part in parties with a large number of participants.
“This does not mean people can’t go on trips with their families,” said economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura who is in charge of coronavirus measures. “Each industry has created a guideline. There needs to be a balance that both (tourism) industries and each one of us have to adopt when taking actions to prevent infection.”
Over the past few days, local leaders, opposition party leaders and some within the ruling parties have increased their calls to revise, postpone or possibly cancel the campaign — a central government program with a ¥1.7 trillion budget to promote domestic tourism.
Local governments fear an influx of visitors from urban areas will lead to a spike in infections they are ill-equipped to handle.
Speaking to reporters Thursday morning, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said a decision on what to do about the Wednesday start would take into account the advice of the government’s newly formed panel on the coronavirus crisis. Created earlier this month, the subcommittee includes economists and nonmedical experts who will meet Thursday evening to discuss the campaign.
“We’re closely monitoring the current spread of infections,” Abe said.
Shigeru Omi, who heads the coronavirus panel, told an Upper House Budget Committee Thursday: “If it is deemed that infections are spreading, it is not the time to launch a nationwide campaign.”
A final government decision is expected Friday following the coronavirus panel’s recommendations. Although originally scheduled to begin in early August, pressure from the travel industry, which has been hit hard by the coronavirus, led the central government to move up the campaign’s start date.
But as the number of coronavirus cases in Tokyo and Osaka rise, pressure to rethink the campaign has grown stronger in recent days.
One proposal some governors are making is to change it into a regional travel campaign that offers discounts for those who want to travel only to neighboring prefectures. Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura, who met with Abe, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga and other top officials earlier this week, said Wednesday evening a national campaign should no longer be carried out but visits to adjacent prefectures might be encouraged.
“People in the Tokyo area could utilize the campaign to travel to neighboring Kanagawa Prefecture. Start with a travel campaign between neighboring prefectures, and then, depending on the coronavirus situation, expand the campaign nationwide,” Yoshimura told reporters.
Yamaguchi Gov. Tsugumasa Muraoka and Okayama Gov. Ryuta Ibaragi have also endorsed the idea of limiting the campaign to travel to neighboring prefectures.
With the summer Bon holidays coming up next month, a time when many people in major cities return to the homes of their parents and relatives in other parts of the country, the government also saw the campaign as an opportunity encourage more travel in August.
But other parts of the country with far fewer cases worry that an increase of visitors from these areas increases the risk of infection in their own prefectures. Concern is especially high in regions with a large percentage of elderly residents and far fewer medical facilities than Tokyo or other major cities.
“On average, 28 percent of Japan’s population is 65 years or older, and depending on the prefecture, there are places where the percentage is rapidly increasing. But with fewer medical facilities, even a small number of coronavirus cases can cause panic,” said Takanori Fujita, an associate professor of social welfare at Seigakuin University.
The other problem that some local governments have is that large numbers of people traveling after Wednesday, especially in the August and September periods, might lead to a spike in local coronavirus outbreaks just as typhoon season begins.
Typhoon damage could mean they are then forced to evacuate their residents, especially elderly residents, to temporary shelters or hospitalize those who are injured at a time when new coronavirus cases in the area are breaking out.
Information from Kyodo added
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