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

The government’s brutal announcement on Thursday to exclude Tokyo from a national tourism campaign sparked questions and criticism over why only the capital was 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 surge in infections with Tokyo in particular. It’s a decision, he said, that was made in close consultation with experts from a government coronavirus subcommittee.

Tokyo is a major tourist destination and many of those who live in Tokyo travel elsewhere. We recognize that excluding these people from the Go To Travel campaign will have an economic effect, ”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 increase the travel industry market by 55% and contribute up to 2 800 billion yen for the travel, restaurant and event planners industries.

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

“But more than the economic effect, we considered the security policy that had 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 as a sharp rise in infections in Tokyo was recorded,” he explained.

Tokyo on Friday recorded a record 293 new cases of coronavirus.

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

“I want the residents 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,” Tokyo Governor Yuriko said Koike.

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

Governor Saitama Motohiro Ono, for his part, called on Tokyoites to think about the potential for infection and avoid unnecessary travel to his prefecture. Osaka Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura 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 raised questions about the feasibility of verifying whether tourists are coming from the capital.  |  AFP-JIJI
Tokyo’s exclusion from a government travel campaign has raised questions about the feasibility of verifying 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 evening, 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 according to the actual infection situation in each region,” Suzuki said.

Tokyo’s exclusion from the campaign also raised questions about the feasibility of verifying whether tourists are coming from the capital. It is also possible for tourists to stay in neighboring Tokyo 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 the personal identification of guests to show that they do not live in Tokyo. Guests 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 deal with any guest showing symptoms of illness.

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