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Travel & Leisure

Japan's domestic-travel campaign blasted as Tokyo outbreak swells

Politicians and businesses fear rise in tourism will spread coronavirus infections

Tourists visit Kyoto's Arashiyama district before the coronavirus outbreak. Many tourism-dependent regions and businesses have suffered heavily due to the pandemic.

TOKYO -- A Japanese campaign to promote domestic travel has sparked intense criticism as coronavirus cases in Tokyo rise once again, with opposition lawmakers and Gov. Yuriko Koike pushing the government to postpone the program.

The Go To Travel promotion, which starts July 22, subsidizes half of travel expenses for domestic trips, with a cap of 20,000 yen ($187) per night per traveler. The government originally planned an August launch, then pushed the date forward to help revive Japan's pandemic-hit economy.

But the recent resurgence in infections raises concerns that such an increase in travel will spread the coronavirus widely across Japan, undermining efforts to contain the outbreak. Tokyo, in particular, confirmed 165 new cases Wednesday, the seventh day in a row with over 100.

"I hope the national government rethinks when and how to implement the campaign in light of current infection levels," Koike told reporters Wednesday. The Tokyo metropolitan government urges residents not to travel at this time, she said.

"If the campaign leads to greater infections in outlying areas, the government would be responsible for that disaster," said Jun Azumi, a member of the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party.

Yasutoshi Nishimura, Japan's minister for economic revitalization, said the tourism ministry will reevaluate whether to proceed with the campaign. A government panel meets Thursday to hear expert feedback.

Hotels, restaurants and other tourism-related businesses also have expressed concerns over Go To Travel, given a lack of details from the government on how the initiative will work.

For example, participating hotels need to maintain a certain distance between guests, but the precise distance remains unclear. The Japanese government has said it will announce further details on safety precautions Friday.

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