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Japan mulls dropping COVID testing requirement for travelers

  Japan   is considering the abolition   of its Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) testing requirement for travelers in line with a concurrent pla...

 Japan is considering the abolition of its Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) testing requirement for travelers in line with a concurrent plan to increase the amount of tourists entering the country.

The South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported that the Land of the Rising Sun is considering a gradual easing of testing requirements. Under current travel rules, individuals entering Japan must submit a negative COVID-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test within 72 hours of departure.

Under the proposed relaxing of guidelines put forward by health officials, fully vaccinated people could be exempted from submitting a negative COVID-19 test. Alongside this, the daily cap of tourists entering Japan could be raised from 20,000 to 50,000.

Japanese public broadcaster NHK also reported that the country is planning to limit the detailed reporting that medical facilities must provide regarding high-risk COVID-19 cases. The move lined up with Tokyo’s plans to classify SARS-CoV-2, the pathogen behind COVID-19, as endemic.

Japan appears to be the last rich economy that still has stringent COVID-19 requirements.

The proposal to scrap COVID-19 testing for incoming travelers signaled Japan’s intent to join the rest of the world in easing stringent pandemic curbs. Other countries such as Australia, Singapore and the United Kingdom impose little to no travel restrictions – with a view to reviving their respective tourism industries.

Prior to the pandemic, inbound tourists hit a record high in 2019 and spent a total of ¥4.8 trillion ($35 billion), according to the Japan Tourism Agency. But COVID-19 and its associated restrictions brought this revenue to a mere ¥120 billion ($877.4 million) in 2021.

In June, Japan kicked off an initiative that allowed a small number of tourists to enter. But a myriad of COVID-19 restrictions at the time – including mask mandates, temperature checks, limited free movement and testing requirements – made potential visitors go away.

Japan’s tourism industry also calling for restrictions to be lifted

Beleaguered industries that rely on tourism to survive – such as airlines, hotels and retailers – are all eager to regain the business they lost to COVID-19. As such, one official for the sector called on the Japanese government to get the economy moving again by dropping pandemic restrictions.

“The government needs to abolish the regulations that are limiting the number of people coming into Japan, and they need to do it right away,” said Naomi Mano, president of the Japan Meeting, Incentive, Convention and Exhibition (MICE) Association.

“They say Japan is open, but it’s not really, especially in comparison with virtually every other Asian country,” she said. “That is hugely damaging to our economy because people are going elsewhere.”

According to Mano, elderly Japanese who fear catching COVID-19 are dictating government policy – something she expressed frustration at.

“The government is only listening to older voters on this issue. Nobody is heeding our advice that for the economy to recover, we need to open up again.”

Mano, who is also the president and CEO of high-end travel company Luxurique, warned that the Japanese government “is taking a huge risk” by refusing to reopen.

“We are lagging behind on the world stage because everyone is too worried about what other Japanese people will say or think. But we are not looking at what the rest of the world is saying about us because we will not let people into the country.”

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