Will Tokyo’s ban help contain the virus or just blunt Japan’s travel campaign?

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The government’s abrupt announcement on Thursday to exclude Tokyo from a national tourism campaign has sparked questions and criticism over why only the capital has been left out and whether or not the exclusion will really help contain the coronavirus. .

Tourism Minister Kazuyoshi Akaba, whose ministry is in charge of the Go To Travel campaign, which offers a 50% government subsidy for domestic travel, called the decision heartbreaking but necessary given the recent spike in infections. in Tokyo in particular. It was a decision, he said, that was made in close consultation with experts from a government coronavirus sub-committee.

“Tokyo is a major tourist destination and many who live in Tokyo travel elsewhere. We recognize that there will be an economic effect to excluding these people from the Go To Travel campaign,” Akaba told reporters on Friday morning.

According to an estimate by the Dai-ichi Life Research Institute, the campaign, if launched from the initial August plan nationwide, will drive up 55% of the travel industry market and contribute up to 2 .8 trillion yen for the travel, catering and event organizer industries.

With Tokyo currently excluded from the plan, there are concerns about its ability to boost domestic tourism spending. The campaign is expected to start on Wednesday.

“But more than the economic effect, we considered the security policy that needed to be taken, based on expert advice,” Akaba said.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga also apologized to reporters for the way the decision was made.

“We made the decision (to exclude Tokyo) just when a sharp increase in infections in Tokyo was recorded,” he explained.

On Friday, Tokyo recorded a record 293 new cases of the coronavirus.

Tourism Minister Kazuyoshi Akaba speaks at a press conference Friday in Tokyo. | KYODO

“I want the people of the capital to feel reassured, and I hope that together – with the Cabinet Office and the governors of neighboring municipalities – to eliminate the risk of displacement between prefectures,” said the governor of Tokyo, Yuriko Koike.

The number of cases in the capital has increased in recent weeks, prompting concern from local governors that users in the Tokyo countryside will spread the coronavirus to other prefectures with fewer staff and facilities. medical.

Saitama Governor Motohiro Ono, for his part, called on Tokyoites to think about the potential for infection and avoid unnecessary travel in his prefecture. Osaka Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura had called on the government to limit the Go To Travel campaign to intra-regional travel rather than anywhere in Japan.

Tokyo's exclusion from a government travel campaign has prompted questions about whether tourists are coming from the capital.  |  AFP-JIJI
Tokyo’s exclusion from a government travel campaign has prompted questions about whether tourists are coming from the capital. | AFP-JIJI

Even remote prefectures that rely heavily on tourists from Tokyo have joined the call.

On Thursday night, Hokkaido Governor Naomichi Suzuki said the campaign should be revised to travel to prefectures with the same level of infections.

“The situation in each region of the country is different, and the government should respond based on the actual infection situation in each region,” Suzuki said.

Tokyo’s exclusion from the campaign has also prompted questions about whether tourists are coming from the capital. It is also possible for tourists to stay in Tokyo’s neighboring prefectures and visit Tokyo for the day.

According to the plan, participating hotels and ryokan (traditional hostels) will be required at the front desk to verify guests’ personal identification to show that they do not live in Tokyo. Customers who refuse to provide such identification will be excluded from the discount campaign.

Social distancing in hotel restaurants as well as local restaurants will be in place. In addition, all hotels are required to be in contact with local health centers, including on weekends, to treat guests who show symptoms of illness.

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