Masks and health insurance: new guidelines for tourists as Japan opens its doors

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Foreign tourists visiting Japan will wear masks, purchase private health insurance and be accompanied throughout their stay, the Japanese government announced on June 7.

It’s a sign that Japan is slowly reopening after two years of COVID-19 restrictions.

Only package tour visitors are allowed during the first phase, which starts from June 10, the Japan Tourism Agency said. There is currently a cap of 20,000 people allowed to enter the country per day for all categories of people, such as Japanese nationals, foreign residents, students and business visitors. Since June 10, incoming tourists are included in this figure.

The last time tourists were allowed to enter Japan was in March 2020.

According to the new guidelines, visitors are welcome again, but under conditions. They must use the services of travel agencies registered in Japan. These agencies are responsible for processing their visas and guaranteeing their travel, according to a new sixteen-page guidelines manual.

A few key points

Masks: The new guidelines call for attendees to be frequently reminded of necessary hygiene precautions, such as wearing masks and removing them only when not needed throughout the tour.

Masks are deemed unnecessary when places are not crowded, when swimming in hot tubs, or when participating in outdoor activities. In situations where people are conversing in close proximity, however, masks should be worn even outdoors.

Medical insurance: Travelers are required to purchase medical insurance to cover any costs of treatment or care in the event of contracting COVID-19.

In addition, they must be supervised by tourist guides throughout their trip. Guides are required to keep an itinerary to track close contacts in case of infection.

Comply if you want to stay

Guides will make sure visitors follow the rules. And those who refuse to do so could be asked to leave Japan.

Tourist agencies are required to choose sites that comply with all infection prevention measures. And hotels must publish guidelines in different languages ​​for their guests to follow.

“Understanding the guidelines and adhering to them will lead to the smooth recovery of inbound tourism and its expansion,” Japan’s Tourism Minister Tetsuo Saito said at a press conference on June 7.

Japan’s new measures propose to balance the enormous economic importance of tourism with the fear that travelers could trigger a COVID epidemic.

Travelers are divided into countries of origin in a tricolor level system, blue, yellow and red. All travelers are requested to present, if available, a valid vaccination certificate and pass a PCR test 72 hours prior to arrival in Japan.

Those in the blue category can enter Japan without further follow-up. Those in the high-risk red category must additionally take a PCR test upon arrival in Japan and self-quarantine where they are registered to stay for three days.

Those in the medium yellow category can waive the PCR test upon arrival and the 3-day quarantine if they presented a vaccination certificate valid in Japan.

Internet users react

As you might expect when it comes to Japanese government bureaucracy, not everyone is impressed with the new guidelines.

Strict rules and routes have been mocked online as reminiscent of a visit to North Korea.

Some business people have also called on the government to further ease entry measures. A joint statement on June 10 by the Japan Federation of Enterprises and associations of chambers of commerce in several countries suggest that the Japanese government lift the daily cap on international entrants, for example.

voice from the ground

Reactions from Japanese citizens in the tourism industry are also mixed.

Many welcome incoming tourists. This is the case of Masaharu Matsuoka, who works in the trade promotion section of Kinki Nippon Tourist.

“We have been waiting for over two years and with so much anticipation for this moment, it feels like it has finally arrived,” he told the Sankei Shimbun.

Yet there are also those who worry about the cumbersome rules that travel agencies have to follow.

“The burden of tour guides is really very big,” Kotaro Toriumi, an analyst specializing in travel and tourism, pointed out, as reported The Sankei Shimbun.

Some also expect confusion over mask-wearing practices. Japan recently updated its mask guidelines, but with a few exceptions, mask-wearing in the country is nearly universal.

That said, masks are not normally worn in spas or public baths. According to information published by the Ministry of Tourism, Territory and Infrastructure, among the trial visits conducted from the end of May, there were foreign tourists who still wore masks in public baths.

The hospitality industry in Japan

Before the pandemic, tourism was an important source of income for Japan. In 2019, a record 32 million foreign tourists visited the country, spending the equivalent of US$38 billion.

Looking ahead to normalization in a post-COVID era, the government hopes to surpass this record and attract 60 million tourists by 2030.

Anyway, the summer period of 2022 will also be a period of recovery for domestic tourism.

“The real question will be how to welcome foreign tourists to Japan while reviving domestic travel. This is a great opportunity to think about how to balance these two aspects,” travel journalist Kazuko Murata commented to The Sankei Shimbun.

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Author: Arielle Busetto, Shaun Fernando

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