The Japanese government said that it will go ahead with its divisive plan to spur domestic travel by offering subsidies next week, although a rebound in COVID-19 cases in the capital will see the virus-hit Tokyo removed from the campaign.
According to Kazuyoshi Akaba, Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, trips within Japan by Tokyo residents as well as visits to and from Tokyo will not be supported by the planned subsidy program aimed at bolstering domestic travel, reports Xinhua news agency.
The government has said its ‘Go To Travel Campaign’ would start on July 22, with the idea being that by subsidizing accommodation and transport fees, more people would be encouraged to take domestic trips.
Thus, according to the government’s original reasoning, local economies and the overall domestic tourism sector would get a boost from increased consumer spending after a prolonged virus-triggered slump, which in turn would benefit the broader recession-hit economy.
But the campaign has met with resistance from concerned parties who fear that the plan will only serve to increase the number of COVID-19 infections as more people cross prefectural borders.
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike has spoken out against the plan as the the city’s metropolitan government, while announcing COVID-19 cases had hit record 286 in the capital on Thursday, has urged people to refrain from making unnecessary trips across prefectural borders.
The number of infections in the capital has been increasing since the state of emergency was completely lifted on May 25.
The metropolitan government amid a recent uptick in cases has raised its coronavirus alert level to the highest on its four tier scale.
A reading of four means that “infections are spreading” and as such Tokyo residents have been urged to refrain from making non-essential trips across prefectural borders in a bid to prevent the spread of the virus to other prefectures.
Tokyo’s cumulative number of COVID-19 infections has risen to 8,640 as of Thursday evening, the highest among the nation’s 47 prefectures and accounting for more than one-third of all cases nationwide.
Tokyo’s neighbouring prefectures of Saitama and Kanagawa have also recorded an increase in COVID-19 cases recently, commensurate with the capital’s rise in infections.
Japan’s cumulative number of COVID-19 cases has now risen to 23,645, not including those related to a cruise ship that was quarantined in Yokohama near Tokyo earlier this year.
Other local government’s along with opposition parties have called on the government to rethink its Go To Travel Campaign, urging the idea to be postponed or its introduction staggered amid the virus’ resurgence and due to numerous areas being flooded and hit by landslides following torrential rain hitting wide swathes of the country recently.
Main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan head Yukio Edano said it is untimely to be promoting tourism right now.
Toshio Nakagawa, president of the Japan Medical Association, said that “extreme caution” would be required by the government in launching the campaign.