Japan reopens to guided and masked tourists

Foreign tourists visiting Japan will be required to wear masks, purchase private medical insurance and be accompanied throughout their stay, in a gradual reopening after two years of COVID-19 restrictions.

Only package tour visitors will be allowed during the first phase of reopening, starting June 10, the Japan Tourism Agency said, adding that travel agency guides accompanying visitors should ensure they are wearing their mask.

“Tour guides should frequently remind tour participants of necessary infection prevention measures, including wearing and removing masks, at each stage of the tour,” the agency said in its guidelines.

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“Even outdoors, mask-wearing should continue in situations where people are conversing in close proximity.”

Japan has imposed some of the strictest border controls in the world during the pandemic, barring entry to almost all non-residents.

As most of the rest of the world opens up from COVID lockdowns, Japan is also relaxing its rules. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has pledged to bring border measures in line with those of other wealthy countries.

The government has recently started to relax mask guidelines for the general public, although coverings are ubiquitous. Wearing masks to prevent the spread of germs and repel pollen was common in Japan before the coronavirus pandemic.

Japan last month held “test tours” for groups of about 50 people, mostly travel agents, but one of the attendees tested positive for COVID.

James Jang, an Australian travel agent who went on one of the trial tours, said the rules are likely to put some people off at the moment.

“Customers will be ok with wearing a mask indoors, but wearing them around the clock is a problem,” Jang told Reuters.

“The cost of having a guide at all times can deter clients until later when they have more flexibility.”

In 2019, Japan welcomed 31.9 million foreign visitors.

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