Tokyo to be eligible for gov't travel subsidy program despite recent spike in COVID-19 cases

The Japanese government from Oct. 1 will include Tokyo in its domestic travel subsidy program after initially deciding the capital was ineligible in July.

The Japanese government from Oct. 1 will include Tokyo in its domestic travel subsidy program after initially deciding the capital was ineligible in July due to a resurgence of COVID-19 cases, the country's tourism minister said Friday.

The decision to include Tokyo in the government's "Go To Travel" campaign was made between Tourism Minister Kazuyoshi Akaba, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga and Economic Revitalization Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who is also the minister in charge of the coronavirus response.

"The struggling Tokyo tourism industry's recovery will gain momentum and Tokyoites are looking forward to the inclusion," Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike told a press briefing on the matter, a day after the Tokyo metropolitan government lowered its alert level for the virus.

The Tokyo metropolitan government on Thursday lowered its coronavirus alert by one notch on its four-tier scale as weekly infections have marked a downward trend.

The four-level virus warning system was introduced on July 2, and the metropolitan government raised the alert to the highest level, meaning "infections are spreading," on July 15 when the local government confirmed 165 new COVID-19 cases in the capital.

The second-highest level, where the alert level now stands, means "caution is necessary" against a resurgence of virus infections.

The decision to lower the alert level was reached by the Tokyo metropolitan government after consultations to assess the exact virus situation in the capital of 14 million with public health and infectious disease experts.

During the consultations, Masataka Inokuchi from the Tokyo Medical Association explained to those convened that the average number of new cases in the past week had decreased to 149, compared with 183 in the previous week.

Inokuchi warned, however, that the pace of decline remains slow and the situation requires continued vigilance, adding that a fresh resurgence of COVID-19 cases would result in the alert level being raised back to the highest level.

Koike on Friday urged those taking advantage of the travel subsidy campaign to ensure that maximum preventative measures were taken to ensure no further spread of the virus.

The government said its "Go To Travel" campaign, beginning July 22, would help bolster the domestic tourism sector by subsidizing accommodation and transport fees.

According to the government's original reasoning, local economies and the overall domestic tourism sector would get a boost from increased consumer spending after a prolonged virus-triggered slump, which in turn would benefit the broader recession-hit economy.

Under the 1.35 trillion yen (12.7 billion US dollars) campaign, travelers can benefit from a 35 percent discount on their expenses and from Oct. 1 will be able to receive coupons worth 15 percent of their total costs that can be exchanged for food, shopping and activities offered at participating locations.

The Japan Tourism Agency has estimated that around 7.81 million people have taken advantage of the campaign based on those staying at participating hotels between July 27 and Sept. 3.

The government hopes the inclusion of Tokyo in the campaign will help see these figures swell significantly and hence spending to help virus-hit regional economies.

But the COVID-19 cases in the capital have been a cause for concern again this week, with the local government reporting 187 new cases on Friday and 276 the previous day. This is compared to less than 80 new cases reported on Monday.

The capital's cumulative total has reached more than 22,600 infections, according to the latest figures.

The sharp rise in cases in Tokyo on Friday, the highest among Japan's 47 prefectures, has pushed new infections nationwide up by more than 300 to a total caseload topping 75,000 infections and a death toll surpassing 1,400 people.

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