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Japan move to relax Covid ban on Foreigners

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Japan announced Thursday that it will lift tough Covid restrictions on foreign tourists, reopening the borders after two and a half years.

Speaking at the New York Stock Exchange, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, said the pandemic had interrupted the free flow of people, goods and capital that had helped the nation flourish.

“But from October 11, Japan will relax border control measures to be on par with the US, as well as resume visa-free travel and individual travel,” said Kishida, who is in the city for the United Nations General Assembly.

Japan, along with China, has been a holdout in continuing tough restrictions on visitors, as much of the world has moved on from the pandemic.

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But unlike China, Japan never imposed a strict lockdown during the crisis.

Tourists who come to Japan will enjoy a weak yen, which has plummeted so low against the dollar that the finance ministry intervened in the currency market Thursday for the first time since 1998.

The return of the visa-waiver program suspended in March 2020 will restore the ease of access that saw a record 31.9 million foreign visitors to the country in 2019.

Since June, Japan has allowed tourists to visit in groups accompanied by guides, a requirement that was further relaxed to include self-guided package tours.

The cautious approach to reopening has been deliberate, said James Brady, Japan analysis lead at US-based consultancy Teneo.

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Kishida “took office a year ago knowing that perceived mishandling of the pandemic had been a key factor in undermining public confidence” in his predecessor’s government, Brady told AFP.

“He has been extremely careful not to repeat those mistakes.”

Japan has recorded around 42,600 coronavirus deaths in total — a vastly lower rate than many other countries — and 90 percent of residents aged 65 and over have had three vaccine shots.

There is no law requiring people to wear masks, but they are still near-ubiquitous in public places like trains and shops, with many Japanese willing to sport masks when ill even before the pandemic.

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On the streets of Tokyo, members of the public hailed the announcement.
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