Covid: Japan to allow tourists for first time in two years - but visitors will need a chaperone

Tourists dressed in kimono wear masks as they visit Sensoji Temple in Tokyo. Credit: AP

Japan is allowing entry to foreign tourists after two years of stringent Covid travel curbs - but holidaymakers will have to be accompanied by a chaperone throughout their visit.

Japan had some of the world's toughest virus control regimes, with the country barring all tourists and allowing only citizens and foreign residents entry for most of the pandemic.

But tourists will begin to be allowed to enter Japan from Friday, the Japan Tourism Agency (JTA) said, as the country continues its slow relaxation of its Covid-19 entry restrictions.

Under the rules, only visitors on package tours will be allowed in during the first phase of reopening, from June 10, and will have to wear masks and take out private medical insurance.

The JTA says travel agency guides accompanying visitors will be responsible for ensuring they wear their masks.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know

From June 10, tour groups, from 98 select countries and regions, which include the UK, the US, France and Spain, will be permitted entry to the country.

All arrivals have to test negative for Covid-19 before travel to Japan, and many must be tested again upon arrival.

"Tour guides should frequently remind tour participants of necessary infection prevention measures, including wearing and removing masks, at each stage of the tour," the JTA said in its updated guidelines. "Even outdoors, the wearing of masks should continue in situations where people are conversing in close proximity."

People wearing protective masks walk along a pedestrian crossing at Ginza shopping district in Tokyo. Credit: AP

The prime minister, Fumio Kishida, said he wants to ease border control measures, but changes are expected to be brought in gradually, as there is strong public support for current restrictions.

In May, the JTA said it would start allowing small group tours to enter from later that month as “test cases” in order to gain information for a broader resumption of tourism.

The Japanese government has recently begun relaxing mask guidance for the general public, though the coverings remain widely used among the population.

Japan welcomed some 31.9 million foreign visitors in 2019 and had been on track to achieve its goal of 40 million in 2020 before the coronavirus pandemic hit, and devastated the country's tourism industry.