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Editorial: Start of nat'l tourism subsidy campaign amid COVID-19 spike in Tokyo a concern

The Japanese government is poised to start a campaign to subsidize travel expenses for individual tourists on July 22. The launch date of its "Go To Travel" campaign was moved up from the original date in early August to boost tourism demand ahead of a four-day weekend starting on July 23.

The tourism industry consists of a wide range of businesses, from hotels to restaurants, retailers and transportation firms. It is essential to support such businesses as they have been hit by a sharp decline in demand due to the spread of coronavirus infections.

At the same time, Tokyo saw over 200 new coronavirus cases for four consecutive days up until July 12, while the neighboring prefecture of Saitama asked host clubs and other businesses that had failed to take adequate preventive measures to temporarily close. Looking to western Japan, Osaka Prefecture has raised its independent coronavirus risk alert level to "yellow."

Economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura has said the government will "work on preventive measures against infections while maintaining socioeconomic activities." However, it seems contradictory to push for tourism nationwide while raising the alarm over the re-emergence of coronavirus infections.

Some people infected with the new coronavirus are asymptomatic. We cannot deny the possibility of asymptomatic people traveling to places without realizing that they are carrying the virus. There will be no undoing of the damage if infections spread from cities to regional areas and cause local medical care systems to collapse.

The National Governors' Association cautioned in a statement that Japan must not allow the Go To Travel project to become the cause of a further spread of infections.

It will likely take some time for areas hit hard by torrential rain including the southwestern Japan region of Kyushu to recover. Not all areas in Japan will be able to accommodate tourists traveling far from home.

The government's subcommittee on tackling infectious diseases has recommended that tourism campaigns that go beyond prefectural borders should be implemented gradually. Travel from and into the Tokyo metropolitan area and the Kinki region in western Japan especially requires caution.

Tourism support measures should be introduced step-by-step, not all at once throughout the nation. One idea would be to guide people into first traveling to neighboring prefectures or limit the scope of areas subject to such a campaign.

Furthermore, to prevent throngs of tourists traveling at the same time, companies and government bodies need to promote initiatives to enable workers to take vacations in turns. It would also be effective to provide real-time congestion information at tourist spots so people can avoid crowds.

We want hotels and restaurants to thoroughly follow their respective industries' preventive guidelines against infections, which set detailed rules such as rigorous cleaning of shared facilities and limiting the number people using dining halls and public baths.

The government's Go To Campaign was planned as a post-pandemic economic stimulus policy in the first place, but the coronavirus crisis could last a very long time. It requires flexibility, and close attention to measures against infections

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