Tokyo cut from "Go To Travel" campaign after virus numbers rise

Japan's government says it will go ahead with the launch of a travel campaign next week, but will exclude Tokyo after an uptick in coronavirus cases there.

The "Go To Travel Campaign" is designed to boost domestic tourism, and will begin on July 22. The government will subsidize up to half of accommodation and transportation costs. But some opposition lawmakers and local government leaders have argued that the project could help spread the virus.

A government subcommittee on coronavirus measures, which includes infectious disease experts and prefectural governors, met on Thursday to discuss the campaign.

The minister responsible for Japan's virus response, Nishimura Yasutoshi, said they had approved moving ahead with the campaign next Wednesday as scheduled, but without travel to or from Tokyo. He said the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Tokyo over the past seven days has been much higher than in other parts of the country. He also noted that infections have been spreading from Tokyo to neighboring prefectures.

On Thursday, Tokyo confirmed 286 cases of the coronavirus, marking a new single-day record. Governor Koike Yuriko say the decision to omit Tokyo was taken by the central government, and now they will have to explain it to the public, including residents of the capital.

Chart: Daily COVID-19 cases in Tokyo

Some businesses in the tourism industry are expressing relief that the campaign has been narrowed.

The Tateyama Seaside Hotel in Chiba prefecture usually gets about 40 percent of its guests from Tokyo. But Tateishi Masafumi, president of the hotel's owner company, says he thinks in order for people to feel safe when they travel, the guests should be from areas other than Tokyo.

But Tateishi says he is keen to see the campaign itself begin. The hotel's revenue has fallen drastically since spring, and he says some businesses in the tourism industry may go under unless they can earn during the peak season.

Tateyama Seaside Hotel
Tateishi Masafumi, the president of Tateyama Seaside Hotel is worried and cannot feel reassured if people are coming from Tokyo.

Infections are rising in other part of Japan

Osaka prefecture reported 66 new cases on Thursday, the highest daily number since virus-related restrictions were lifted on May.

Osaka Governor Yoshimura Hirofumi says infections haven't yet crossed the red line, but they are gradually spreading through the prefecture, beyond the city of Osaka, and the average age of those infected is rising. He says his focus is on preventing the kind of spike in infections that has happened in Tokyo.

In total, 623 new infections were announced across Japan on Thursday, including 4 cases confirmed at airports. It was the first time since April 10 the daily tally had topped 600.

Chart: Daily COVID-19 cases in Japan

Mikamo Hiroshige, a professor of Aichi Medical University, says the recent rise in infections among people in their 40s and 50s is of major concern.

"Many people in their 50s live with their elderly parents and care for them," he says. "That means the virus could be passed on to elderly people who are more vulnerable."

He says it's crucial to observe the basic rules, avoiding closed, crowded and close-contact settings, and washing hands.