The government is considering covering cancellation fees incurred by Tokyoites who were excluded at the last minute from a domestic tourism promotion created to help coronavirus pandemic-hit regions, sources close to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Monday.
The Go To Travel campaign was thrown into disarray ahead of its official start Wednesday when the government abruptly said last Friday that trips to and from Tokyo will not be covered under the subsidy program.
The government initially said compensation was not an option but has been compelled to change course in the face of public anger and growing calls, even from within the ruling coalition, for a rethink.
“People won’t be satisfied as it is,” an official at the Prime Minister’s Office said.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga signaled the government has changed its stance.
“First we need to grasp the situation because there are a variety of arrangements for cancellation fees set by travel agencies,” the top government spokesman told a news conference. “We will deal with it swiftly.”
Abe has been struggling to stem a recent fall in the polls, due in part to what has been perceived as his poor handling of the coronavirus crisis.
The ¥1.35 trillion ($12.59 billion) travel campaign is designed to spur tourism, a sector pounded by the coronavirus outbreak that led to a nationwide state of emergency in spring.
The campaign will eventually subsidize up to half of all travel expenses, including accommodation and transport costs, to a maximum of ¥20,000 per night for overnight trips.
The government will first provide discounts worth 35 percent of total costs, with the remaining 15 percent covered by coupons to be issued after September for food, shopping and other activities.
The recent furor over the Go To Travel campaign highlights the Abe administration’s struggle to balance the need to reopen the economy while keeping the spread of the coronavirus in check.
Since the complete lifting of the state of emergency in late May, the number of coronavirus cases in Japan has been on the rise as more social and economic activities return to near-normal.
Tokyo is battling to reverse the rising trend of coronavirus cases, with Gov. Yuriko Koike reporting 168 cases Monday on top of over 9,400 so far. Japan has seen more than 25,000 cases in total, excluding about 700 from the Diamond Princess cruise ship that was quarantined off Yokohama earlier this year.
Following the exclusion of Tokyo from the campaign, Fumio Kishida, policy chief of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, asked the government Sunday to consider support measures.
“I’ve heard (the government) is moving to consider (compensation for cancellation fees). We’d like to ask it to do so,” Kishida told reporters.
Komeito, the LDP’s junior coalition partner, also called on the government to consider footing the bill.
“The government policy change would mean cancellation fees (for those planning to take trips). We need to think about that,” Komeito policy chief Noritoshi Ishida told a TV program Sunday.
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