Japan to scrap Covid-test requirement for vaccinated travelers

JAPAN will scrap a requirement to show a negative Covid-19 result to enter the country for boostered travelers, as it faces pressure from the tourism industry and businesses to roll back some of the most stringent pandemic border restrictions left globally.

The easing of rules on Covid testing will go into effect Sept. 7, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Wednesday. The premier made the announcement via video link from his official residence, where he’s isolating as he recovers from a mild case of Covid after testing positive over the weekend.

A decision on whether to raise the daily entry level from the current 20,000 will be made soon, according to Kishida. Media including Kyodo News reported earlier this week that the government was planning raise the level at 50,000.

Japan banned overseas tourists for about two years to slow the spread of the virus. While it has dialed back some of the curbs, it still remains among the slowest in the developed world to open up again. The ongoing restrictions are more stringent than places such as Australia, Singapore and the UK, which impose few if any measures to entry, and are getting a head start in reviving their beleaguered tourism industries.

While the testing requirement is being relaxed, there’s still the issue of entry visas. Japan’s border is currently only open for those with Japanese nationality, as well as long-term and pre-issued tourism visas, and stopped their visa waivers for applicable passports during the pandemic.

Koji Shibata, chief executive officer of ANA Holdings Inc., welcomed the easing as “good news” that will let people travel abroad with peace of mind. But he said he wanted to see a relaxing of the visa requirements by putting them on the same levels as other Group of Seven countries.

Kishida’s government began to allow limited numbers to return from June, albeit subject to strict rules such as being part of a package tour with a guide. His government has retained a cap on daily international arrivals at 20,000, a far cry from the record 31.9 million foreign visitors in 2019.

Airlines, hotels and retailers are all eager to regain the business they lost. The small trickle of foreigners allowed into Japan last year spent 120 billion yen ($877 million). In 2019, they spent 4.8 trillion yen, or forty times more, according to the Japan Tourism Agency.

Travelers currently need to submit negative results from a PCR test taken within 72 hours of departure to Japan. –BLOOMBERG