• Kyodo


Japanese airports and train stations on Saturday started seeing some lines of travelers heading to their hometowns or elsewhere for the New Year’s holidays, but there was less crowding than usual because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Given that the government has decided to suspend its travel subsidy program and asked people to stay home as much as possible to prevent the further spread of the novel coronavirus, reservations for the festive season are lower than usual, according to airlines and train operators.

Still, there were many travelers going through security checks at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport, with announcements reminding passengers to take precautions against the virus.

“I haven’t seen this many people since the spread of the virus began, although it’s still a fraction of what it was in other years,” said a woman working at a souvenir shop in a departure hall.

“We will spend some quiet time in my hometown,” said Takako Kamata, a resident of Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, who was on her way to visit relatives in Okinawa. “Our kids are also excited because they could not go back there this summer.”

The area for domestic flights at Kansai International Airport in Osaka Prefecture was filled with masked travelers, in stark contrast with its departure lobby for international flights, which remained very quiet.

“Looks like I will spend a quiet New Year’s break at home and refrain from going out,” said Tsubasa Nakai, a resident of nearby Sakai, before leaving for his hometown in Hokkaido.

Airlines and train operators said there has been a pickup in demand for seats compared with the summer, but the number of reservations is sharply down from a year before.

Between Friday and Jan. 3, reservations for domestic flights were down 45% from a year earlier, according to air carriers. As of Dec. 9, reservations for shinkansen and express trains from the same day to Jan. 5 were down 61%.

Japan has seen record numbers of infections and deaths linked to the virus since November. On Friday, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga called on the Japanese public to spend the forthcoming holidays “quietly” and avoid large gatherings among family and friends.

The country’s holiday season started a day after it saw daily infections top 3,800 for the first time, with the number of deaths also setting a new record at 64.

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