Japan's travel subsidy campaign kicks off amid virus spread concerns
TOKYO, Kyodo - Japan's travel subsidy campaign kicked off Wednesday to help revive a domestic tourism industry stricken by the novel coronavirus, but with Tokyo excluded amid concerns about a resurgence in infections in urban areas.
The "Go To Travel" campaign, which will see the government cover part of the cost of tourist trips, was launched in the face of worries that the initiative could worsen the virus outbreak at a time when the nationwide tally of infections has started picking up again.
"We will thoroughly implement anti-infection measures and prevent people from falling into serious condition," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters, adding, "We will resume economic activities carefully with the cooperation of the people. That policy stands."
The campaign was thrown into disarray last week when the government made an abrupt decision to remove trips to Tokyo and by its residents from the scheme because of a spike in new cases in the capital.
"I find it unfair (that Tokyo was excluded)," said a 59-year-old woman living in Tokyo, who was leaving from the city's Haneda airport for a four-day trip with her 62-year-old sister to Hiroshima and Shimane prefectures and elsewhere.
Others complained application websites for the campaign are not user-friendly.
Haruna Niimi, 24, who was leaving for Tottori Prefecture from Hokkaido's Shin-Chitose airport to meet a friend, said she gave up on using it.
"I checked various websites but found the application procedure too complicated," she said.
The launch came ahead of a four-day weekend starting Thursday. The extended break, which includes a specially created Sports Day holiday on Friday, was originally set to mark the start of the now-postponed Tokyo Olympics.
As demand for domestic trips is expected to increase, a runway used for low cost carriers at Narita airport, east of Tokyo, reopened Wednesday for the first time in three months.
Under the 1.35 trillion yen ($12.59 billion) tourism push, the government will eventually subsidize up to half of travel expenses, including accommodation and transport fees. Initially, it will provide discounts worth 35 percent of total costs.
The remaining 15 percent will be covered by coupons to be issued after September for food, shopping and other travel activities offered at destinations.
The government decided last Thursday to exclude trips to and from Tokyo after the capital reported a single-day record of 286 new infections.
The city remains the hardest-hit area, accounting for about a third of the nationwide tally of cases. On Tuesday, 237 new cases were confirmed in the capital, with the total since the outbreak nearing 10,000. Nationwide, 631 infections were reported to bring the total to around 26,000, excluding some 700 from the Diamond Princess, the cruise ship that was quarantined in Yokohama in February.
Tourism minister Kazuyoshi Akaba initially said the government had no plans to compensate for cancellation fees incurred by the decision to exclude Tokyo at the last minute, but reversed the stance on Tuesday amid a public outcry a day before the launch.
The subsidy scheme was initially slated to begin in August before Japan's summer holidays around the middle of the month, when many people living in major cities return to their hometowns. But it was moved forward in time for a four-day long weekend from Thursday. (Kyodo)