Japan starts accepting inbound tourism for first time in two years

Japan has eased its anti-coronavirus border controls to start accepting overseas tourists for the first time in about two years.

The government on Friday reopened the borders to foreign sightseers from 98 countries and regions deemed to be at the lowest risk of spreading COVID-19. They include the United States, South Korea and China.

Visitors from this group are exempt from virus testing on arrival, and from self-quarantine, even if they are unvaccinated.

Still, there will be a limited number of foreign tourists allowed in, as the number of arrivals is capped at 20,000 per day.

Tourists are also restricted to escorted package tours for the time being as part of efforts to prevent the spread of the virus.

The Japan Tourism Agency has released guidelines requiring travel agencies ensure foreign tourists follow anti-infection measures, such as wearing masks.

The agencies also have to obtain the consent of tourists to take out private health insurance in case they need medical treatment in Japan.

People may not be allowed to take part in tours if they do not abide by these rules.

Major travel agencies say it will be at least a month or so for foreign tourists to start arriving due to the need for advertising and visa issuance.

Resuming inbound tourism is expected to help Japan's local economies. But the volume of such tourism will be far lower than levels seen before the pandemic, when more than 30 million foreign tourists visited annually.

Attention is now focused on whether the government can relax border restrictions further while ensuring tourists observe anti-infection measures.