Japan's Goto Domestic Tourism Push Stalls Amid Fears Of Covid-19 'Disaster'

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Surge in cases forces the government to create an exclusion zone around the capital and pay out for cancellations

A government-sponsored campaign to revive domestic tourism in Japan has begun in disarray amid fears it could cause a coronavirus “disaster”.
The “Go To” campaign was supposed to help kick start the world’s third-biggest economy, which has seen the number of overseas visitors plummet by 99.9% in recent months because of the pandemic.

But days before the campaign’s launch, the government excluded people taking holidays in Tokyo, where infections have surged since the nationwide state of emergency was lifted in late May. The city announced 237 new cases on Tuesday, bringing the capital’s tally to almost 10,000 – about half Japan’s total.

The exclusion forced the government to agree to cover the costs of last-minute hotel and other cancellations by people who had planned trips to and from Tokyo.

The 1.35 trillion yen ($12.6bn] programme subsidises up to half of all travel expenses, including transport and accommodation.

The secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic party, Toshihiro Nikai, who has close ties to the tourism industry, is among those who have promoted the scheme, despite widespread doubts about its timing.

While Japan has so far been relatively successful in containing the outbreak, local leaders have voiced opposition to the programme, fearing it could spread the virus to rural areas with large populations of older people and limited medical resources.

“It would be a man-made disaster created by the government if infections keep spreading because of the campaign,” Soichiro Miyashita, the mayor of Mutsu in Aomori prefecture, said, according to the Nikkei business paper.

The prefectures of Fukuoka and Aichi reported record daily cases of 53 and 51 on Tuesday, while Hirofumi Yoshimura, the governor of Osaka, which is near the popular tourist destinations of Kyoto and Nara, warned that the city was experiencing a second wave after a recent spike in infections among young people.

The number of coronavirus deaths in Japan exceeded 1,000 on Monday, including 13 deaths from the Diamond Princess cruise liner, which was quarantined off the Japanese coast in February.

Members of the public appear similarly unenthusiastic, despite the generous subsidies on offer.

A poll by the Nikkei published this week found that 80% of respondents thought it was “too early” to launch the campaign, with just 15% saying the timing was “appropriate”.


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