Japan will allow non-guided package tours from all countries from 7 September and more than double the number of people entering daily as it rolls back some of the strictest COVID-19 border controls among major economies.

The steps announced by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Wednesday, however, do not allow the entry of individual tourists. The premier made no changes to visa restrictions that keep a high bar for entry into the country.

Kishida said the daily entry limit would be increased to 50,000 from the current 20,000. He also said he wants to ease border controls to boost visits by people trying to take advantage of the weakening yen – eventually loosening border restrictions similar to other members of the Group of Seven industrialized countries.

Kishida’s government began allowing limited numbers into the country from June, subject to strict rules, such as being part of package tours with guides and wearing face masks. Japan had about 246,000 foreign visitors last year, which is a lot from the record 31.9 million in 2019.

Japan eliminates COVID-test requirement for vaccinated travelers

Participants in non-guided package tours will still be required to follow itineraries set by travel agencies, and individuals will not be allowed to explore on their own under relaxed rules. The ongoing restrictions are more stringent than in places such as Australia, Singapore and the UK, which impose any measures for entry, and are taking a head start in reviving their beleaguered tourism industries.

Airlines, hotels and retailers in Japan are eager to regain their lost business. The small move by foreigners allowed into the country last year cost 120 billion yen ($866 million). In 2019, they spent 4.8 trillion yen, or forty times more, according to the Japan Tourism Agency.

Tourism-related stocks rose after Kishida’s announcement, with airlines ANA Holdings Inc closing the morning session higher in Tokyo by 2.9% and Japan Airlines Co up 3.4%.

Last week, Kishida said that from September 7 Japan will eliminate the requirement for travelers to show a negative COVID-19 result to enter the country who have received three doses of the vaccine.

While the testing requirement is being relaxed, there is still the issue of entry visas. The border with Japan is currently open only to people of Japanese nationality, as well as those with long-term and pre-issued tourist visas. It stopped the visa exemption for passports in force during the pandemic.

Blackout threat prompts Japan to embrace nuclear again

On energy policy, Kishida told a press conference that while the government’s stance on reducing reliance on nuclear energy has not changed, it is important to keep all options available to ensure that the country can meet the needs of consumers. . He said the government wants experts to give their opinion on the possible development and construction of next generation nuclear reactors by the end of the year.

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