Japan's domestic tourism campaign faces uncertainty as coronavirus spikes in Tokyo

by Reuters
Thursday, 16 July 2020 09:47 GMT

* Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: open https://tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser. (Adds comments from transport minister, government spokesman)

By Christopher Gallagher

TOKYO, July 16 (Reuters) - A multi-billion dollar Japanese campaign to boost domestic tourism faced uncertainty on Thursday as coronavirus cases grew in Tokyo, with government ministers and experts looking at ways to stop the virus being spread from the capital.

Minister of Transport Kazuyoshi Akaba told reporters he was proposing implementing the "Go To" campaign but without travel to and from the capital, where new cases of the coronavirus are causing alarm.

"I would like to hear what our experts think about starting it on July 22 with Tokyo residents, or the city as a destination, not included," Akaba told reporters.

The concerns in Japan highlight a conundrum facing countries around the world over how to balance reviving economies battered by the coronavirus while safeguarding public health.

Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura was also due to meet the experts to discuss the tourism campaign a day after Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike questioned its timing and methods.

Japan has not seen the kind of explosive spread of the coronavirus that has killed tens of thousands in other countries. But Tokyo has raised its coronavirus alert to the highest level after a series of new cases.

Tokyo on Thursday reported a record 286 new cases, the government said.

The government's top spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, said Japan had 19,000 hospital beds and plenty of medical supplies to cope with the outbreak.

He also noted the devastating economic impact of the coronavirus on Japan's regions with most foreign tourists banned from entering the country.

"We hope the Go To campaign supports tourism and the food and beverage industry and brings about a social and economic recovery so that the regions can escape this severe situation," Suga told a news conference.

'THINK AGAIN'

The campaign will see travellers get subsidies of as much as 50% to boost tourism-reliant economies outside major population areas.

Nishimura said earlier he wanted to hear the opinions of the experts on containment measures, such as preventing big gatherings and ensuring ventilation on transport.

The government is keen to avoid a return to the stay-at-home restrictions that helped contain the virus but hurt the economy, putting it on course to shrink at its fastest pace in decades this fiscal year.

Opposition lawmakers and others have raised concern that with infections in Tokyo running at their highest level since the outbreak began, city folk could spread the virus through regions that have been relatively lightly hit.

"I don't see why it can't be delayed a bit, or it could be limited to certain regions," said Ryuta Ibaragi, governor of Okayama in the west of the country, which has had just 29 infections out of Japan's total tally of 23,000 cases.

"Based on the current situation with infections, I really want them to think again about the timing and method for implementing" the campaign, Koike said on Wednesday.

Underscoring the plight of the travel industry, overseas visitors to Japan totalled just under 4 million in the first half of the year, data showed on Wednesday, just a tenth of the government's full-year target of 40 million.

(Reporting by Chris Gallagher; Additional reporting by Kaori Kaneko, Chang-Ran Kim and Tim Kelly Editing by Kenneth Maxwell, Robert Birsel)

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