Japan will ease travel restrictions imposed during the pandemic

MATT SEDENSKY is an AP national writer

NEW YORK (AP) — Japan’s strict border restrictions will be eased next month, the prime minister announced Thursday, allowing tourists to enter easily for the first time since the pandemic began.

At a press conference at the foot of Central Park in New York, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said that from October 11, independent tourists will be welcomed again, not just those traveling with authorized groups.

The cap on the number of tourists granted entry – which was gradually increased this year – will be lifted entirely. And visa requirements that were introduced in response to the pandemic will also be lifted.

Japan’s strict restrictions on the COVID-19 pandemic have led to a sharp decline in visitor numbers and a sharp drop in the tourism industry. Although it welcomed foreign tourists back in June after a hiatus of more than two years, the reopening has baffled many eager to visit.

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The earlier announcement, billed as a relaxation of group tour regulations, proved anything but the introduction of a confusing process that requires approval through a Japanese travel agent, often with hefty fees or commissions, for many tourists.

Now the country seems to be getting back to normal, so some have booked their trips to see Japan’s autumn foliage. Kishida said the campaign, aimed at strengthening the tourism industry, will be rolled out with discounts.

“We hope that many citizens will take advantage,” he said as he wrapped up his trip to New York.

Until now, Japan has maintained pandemic travel rules that many other countries have long abandoned. Some tourists have moved their vacations to countries, including South Korea and Thailand, which have recently seen looser regulations.

Kishida spoke on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. In other remarks, he called for reform of the UN Security Council and dismissed any skepticism about Japan’s increased military spending, saying it remained a “peace-loving nation”.

He also said Japan would “boldly take the necessary steps” to combat excessive fluctuations in the yen, which has fallen to its lowest level against the US dollar in more than two decades.

AP national writer Matt Sedensky can be reached at msedensky@ap.org and https://twitter.com/sedensky. For more AP coverage of the UN General Assembly, visit https://apnews.com/hub/united-nations-general-assembly

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