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Japan to relax Covid travel restrictions and allow entry to independent tourists

NEW YORK — Japan’s tight border restrictions will be relaxed next month, the prime minister announced Thursday, allowing tourists to enter easily for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

At a news conference at the foot of Central Park in New York, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said independent tourists would be welcome again from Oct. 1. 11, not just those traveling with authorized groups.

A limit on the number of tourists granted entry, which has been gradually increased this year, will be completely removed. And the visa requirements that were imposed in response to the pandemic will also change.

Japan’s harsh Covid-19 restrictions have sent visitor numbers plummeting and its tourism industry reeling. Although foreign tourists were welcomed back in June after a hiatus of more than two years, the reopening has been confusing for many looking to visit.

An earlier announcement billed as a relaxation of the group travel rule turned out, for many tourists, to be just the opposite: it introduced a convoluted process that required authorization through a Japanese travel agent, often with hefty fees or commissions. .

Now the country appears to be getting back to normal, in time for some to book trips to Japan’s fall foliage. Kishida said a campaign aimed at boosting the tourism industry by offering discounts would be launched.

“We hope that many citizens take advantage,” he said as he wrapped up a trip to New York.

Until now, Japan has persisted in pandemic travel rules that many other countries have long since scrapped. Some tourists have moved their vacations to countries like South Korea and Thailand, which have lately had more flexible rules.

Kishida was speaking on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. In other comments, he called for reform of the UN Security Council and dismissed any skepticism about Japan’s increased military spending, saying it remains a “peace-loving nation.”

He also said Japan would “boldly take the necessary steps” to combat the excessive fluctuation of the yen, which has fallen to its lowest level against the US dollar in more than two decades.

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