Japan to expand payoffs to businesses as travel campaign suspended
Published: Dec 17, 2020 03:58 PM

A skier heads down a run at the Kokusai Ski Resort in Sapporo, Japan on December 9. Photo: VCG

Japan's tourism ministry on Tuesday said it will broaden compensation payouts to businesses in the tourism industry to help them with losses associated with the suspension of the government subsidized travel campaign. 

The government said on Monday that it will suspend the "Go To Travel" campaign, which has already seen Osaka City in western Japan and Sapporo City in Hokkaido, the northernmost prefecture, excluded due to a resurgence in COVID-19 cases, from December 28 to January 11. 

The government also said that prior to the nationwide suspension coming into effect, subsidies for travel to Tokyo and Nagoya would be halted earlier, owing to rises in novel coronavirus infections and concerns about medical facilities becoming overburdened. 

The government's decision came amid a surge of coronavirus cases in the country, and many businesses in the travel industry, already suffering from the effects of the global pandemic, were looking to the campaign to net profits over the holidays. 

The tourism ministry said that customers who have already made travel bookings during the affected period can cancel them without incurring any penalties before December 24 and the government will pay 50 percent of the canceled travel charges of up to 20,000 yen ($190) per person per night. 

This is taking into account that many travel businesses would have taken on more staff at what would have been a peak travel time at the end of this year and the beginning of the next and thus incurred hefty costs. 

"I will make every effort to curb further infections over the year-end and New Year holiday," Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga was quoted as saying at a meeting of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party on Tuesday. 

Opposition parties, however, took aim at the government over the issue. 

Yukio Edano, head of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, said the government's U-turn on the matter reflected its inability to fight the virus in what it had highlighted as a critical three weeks from November 25. 

The sudden decision to halt the nationwide campaign, rather than exclude specific cities as had widely been expected, came on the heels of the government's subcommittee on anti-virus measures on December 11 calling for the halt of the campaign in areas with rising infections, as the increased movement of people taking advantage of cheaper travel under the campaign's conditions, is thought to be exacerbating the spread of the virus. 

Suga had initially spurned the calls in a belief that efforts to curb the spread of the virus could be balanced with reviving the pandemic-hit economy. 

But recent statistics paint a stark picture of the severity of the virus in Japan. 

In the week ending December 13, Japan confirmed 17,694 new cases and 242 deaths, both of which were record highs. 

In addition, the number of new COVID-19 infections per week topped the 10,000-mark for the first time in the seven days to November 15. 

Until the beginning of November, the number of deaths per week stood at about 50, rising to 71 in the week ending November 15 and 93 in the week ending November 22. 

In the week ending November 29, there were 138 deaths, surging to 233 deaths in the week to December 6. 

While daily figures have fluctuated narrowly in a rangebound manner recently, medical officials now believe Japan is in the grip of a third wave of new infections. 

COVID-19 patients designated as being in a "serious condition" hit a record high of 583 in Japan on December 13, official figures showed. 

Tokyo, the hardest hit by the virus among Japan's 47 prefectures with a cumulative total of 47,990 infections, confirmed 305 new cases on Monday. 

This was down from 480 new cases reported on December 13, but this figure marked the highest on record for a Sunday. 

These figures compared to a record 621 cases reported on December 12 in the city of 14 million people, the highest since the outbreak of the virus here. 

On Tuesday, the western prefecture of Osaka reported 306 new COVID-19 cases, bringing its total caseload to 25,420 infections. 

Aichi Prefecture, meanwhile, the capital city of which is Nagoya, saw 216 new cases on Tuesday to total 13,050 infections, while Hokkaido, also hard hit by a recent spike in ­cases and cluster infections, reported 104 new cases to bring its cumulative total to 11,564. 

A total of 2,715 people have died in Japan from the pneumonia-­causing virus.