A month after its launch, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga continues to extol the virtues of a controversial travel subsidy program for the ravaged tourism industry as criticism builds that the government rolled it out too soon.

“If we hadn’t done it, I think (the tourism industry) would have been more devastated,” Suga said of the Go To Travel program, which began on July 22, during an appearance on the TV program Hodo Station on Friday.

The comment from the top government spokesman came after Iwate Gov. Takuya Tasso declared the campaign, funded with a massive ¥1.35 trillion budget, a “failure,” given the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

“It was too early to start the program in July. The government was also ill-prepared, so I think we can say that the campaign is a failure,” Tasso said during a news conference Friday.

Tasso noted that the program was designed to rev up the economy after the COVID-19 pandemic had been contained. “The pandemic is not over yet, so I don’t think the campaign will be as effective as expected.”

Suga, however, said about 2 million people have taken advantage of the program so far, giving at least “a little help” to an industry that supports millions of jobs nationwide.

While Okinawa Prefecture has seen a surge of infections in the past month, leading its government to declare a state of emergency, Suga said some people in its local tourism sector have asked him to ensure the travel campaign continues.

Before its launch, many people expressed concern that promoting tourism would spread the coronavirus more widely around the nation. But Suga claimed on the TV show that only 10 people had been infected through Go To Travel.

The campaign covers half of a person’s travel expenses — up to ¥20,000 per stay or ¥10,000 for a day trip — if people purchase trips through designated travel agencies or make reservations at designated hotels.

Initially, travelers will be provided with a 35 percent discount on travel expenses. From September, special coupons providing discounts at designated shops during the travel period will be issued to compensate tourists for the remaining 15 percent.

The program drew flak before it even began, as Japan, particularly Tokyo, was experiencing a spike in infections around the time it was launched.

Travel to and from Tokyo was excluded from the campaign as a result of the spike in infections in the capital, robbing a large chunk of potential travelers of the incentive to leave home.

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