• Reuters, Kyodo

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Japan's Go To Travel domestic tourism subsidy program may resume in February after being suspended since late last year amid a resurgence in COVID-19 cases, with the campaign to include compulsory virus countermeasures, government sources said Thursday.

While the number of new and serious COVID-19 cases in the country has sharply declined recently along with the progress of the vaccination program, the government believes it still needs to evaluate whether oral drugs for preventing serious symptoms will be available by the end of the year, the sources said.

The government is planning to require people taking advantage of the Go To Travel program to show proof of vaccination or a negative virus test result when they check into accommodation and on other occasions, according to the sources.

The tourism-boosting campaign, which covers 50% of travel costs up to ¥20,000 per person per night, began in July 2020 to support the industry amid the pandemic-caused downturn, but was suspended last December due to the rapid spread of infections.

The government is considering lowering the per night subsidy cap to ¥13,000 as the relatively large original discount was criticized for benefiting luxury hotels rather than more reasonably priced operations, according to the sources.

It is also studying a plan to run the nationwide campaign until the end of the Golden Week holidays in May and then switch to subsidizing prefectural governments' own tourism campaigns that promote travel for residents within their home prefectures, they said.

The Japan Tourism Agency has been trialing procedures to confirm travelers' vaccination status or virus test results since October in preparation for a resumption of the travel campaign. The agency will formulate operational guidelines by the end of this month, the sources said.

Opposition parties had criticized the program as a factor in the resurgence of virus infections. A total of 87.81 million hotel stays were made under the campaign by Dec. 28 last year when it was halted, with the government spending ¥2.7 trillion on the scheme.

The planned review of the program aimed at spreading the benefits to a wider range of hotel operators and to make its use less concentrated around weekends and holidays.

A plan has emerged to reduce discount rates for accommodation facilities from 35% to 30%, in the hope that people will stay at hotels and inns that are not as expensive. The revamped campaign is also expected to encourage people to travel more on weekdays, through measures such as handing out coupons worth ¥3,000 on weekdays for dining and shopping at travel destinations, while distributing ¥1,000 coupons on weekends and holidays, the sources said.

The tourism industry and local governments that were financially devastated by the pandemic have been calling for the Go To Travel program to be quickly restarted.

After its suspension, the Japan Tourism Agency subsidized prefectural governments' own tourism campaigns that promoted travel for residents within their home prefectures.

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