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Editorial: Japan gov't responsible for confusion over 'Go To' travel subsidy campaign

The Japanese government has decided to review its "Go To Travel Campaign" subsidizing individual travel to combat the economic downturn from the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Instead of implementing the program nationwide, the government says it will exclude trips to and from Tokyo, which has recently seen a spike in infections.

The capital on July 16 recorded a daily high of 286 new cases of the virus, and it had been feared that if a full-scale campaign went ahead as scheduled from July 22, then infections could spread across the country to regional areas. There was probably no other option but to exclude Tokyo.

Yet the government's response was problematic to begin with. It suddenly announced that it would bring forward the starting date of the campaign, which was originally slated to begin in early August, without sufficiently hearing the opinions of the regions accepting visitors or experts specialized in infection control. It's no wonder there was a backlash from local bodies.

While the campaign is still due to commence on July 22, the sudden revision less than a week before its launch is likely to have a major impact on bookings. The government bears a heavy responsibility for having invited such confusion.

The policy of both preventing the spread of infections of the virus and proceeding with economic recovery is important. But if there are delays in bringing infections under control, then it will only push economic recovery further away. It is essential to diligently analyze the state of infections, and reflect the knowledge that is acquired in government policies.

We also need to consider the feelings of residents in areas preparing to welcome visitors. The elderly, in particular, likely harbor strong concerns about the virus spreading from cities. Soichiro Miyashita, mayor of the Aomori Prefecture city of Mutsu in northern Japan, warned of a "man-made disaster" that could occur if the campaign resulted in the spread of COVID-19.

Rushing ahead with economic recovery measures, the government lacked fine-tuned consideration.

What is worrying right now is the fact that coronavirus infections are spreading not only within the capital sphere and the Kinki district, including in major cities in western Japan, but are also starting to increase again in regional areas. Is excluding Tokyo alone from the subsidy campaign sufficient? The nation probably needs to prepare for a potentially further worsening of the situation.

Steps such as supporting tourism first from neighboring prefectures, and then expanding that support in stages, are necessary. If hasty measures end up bringing about the spread of infections, then it will only have a negative impact on the tourism industry.

We have already seen discord between the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, which is seeing an increase in the number of infections in the capital, and the national government.

While Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike called for people to voluntarily refrain from traveling out of the prefecture, the central government continued to advance a nationwide tourism campaign. These disjointed approaches surely left the public puzzled.

The Japanese government must outline an appropriate road map toward establishing measures both to prevent the spread of infections and to bring about economic recovery.

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