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Japan to Reopen to Tourists Despite Record Covid-19 Cases

People watch the full moon on the observation deck of Roppongi Hills Mori Tower, during a harvest-moon viewing event in Tokyo on September 10, 2022.

People watch the full moon on the observation deck of Roppongi Hills Mori Tower, during a harvest-moon viewing event in Tokyo on September 10, 2022.
Photo: Philip Fong / AFP (Getty Images)

The government of Japan is planning to fully reopen the country to international tourism, perhaps as early as October, according to reports from Nikkei Asia and the Fuji News Networkdespite the fact Japan saw a record number of covid-19 cases over the summer.

Japan currently allows an extremely limited number of tourists who have reservations with guided tourist groups into the country and has been among the slowest of all wealthy countries to open up, although China still has some of the strictest border controls.

Government officials in Japan hope the current weakness of the yen will help drive tourists who are looking for good deals, according to Channel News Asia. And deputy chief cabinet secretary Seiji Kihara said as much on Sunday, according to the news outlet.

We will review[[restrictions altogether. We have to carry it out in the not-so-distant future,” Kihara said, according to Nikkei. “Japan has seasonal attractions in fall and winter. We know there are a lot of people overseas who want to come to Japan.”

But all of this opening up is against a strange backdrop when you consider how well Japan fared during the early days of the pandemic. The decision to reopen to international tourists comes as Japan recovers from its highest daily case count of the entire pandemic, when cases were recently spiking in a way the country has never seen before.

Japan reported over 81,000 new covid-19 cases on Sunday and 104 new deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, down from the country’s record high of over 200,000 new cases every day in late August. But compare that with Japan’s relatively mild wave a year earlier in August of 2021 when daily case numbers peaked at just 25,000 per day.

A graph from Johns Hopkins University showing the daily case numbers and deaths from covid-19 in Japan since the start of the pandemic.

Many people argue, of course, that the real number that matters at this point in the pandemic is the number of daily deaths from the disease, given that the vast majority of Japan has been vaccinated against covid-19. Roughly 81% of people in Japan have been vaccinated for covid compared with just 68% of Americans, the lowest among wealthy countries, and behind Sri Lanka and India, according to Johns Hopkins. But there’s still a lot we don’t understand about long-covid and what it will mean for humanity to simply contract covid-19 a couple times each year for the rest of our lives.

The US is currently averaging roughly 66,000 new cases each day and about 400 new deaths, according to the New York Times. But that number of cases is likely a vast underestimate, given the fact that many people are testing at home and don’t report their case to the local health department.

Japan, with a total population of 125 million people, has seen 20.1 million cases of covid-19 and 42,658 deaths since the start of the pandemic. The US, with a population of 330 million, has recorded 95 million cases and over 1 million deaths.

China, which has faced criticism for its countless human rights abuses and hiding the true scope of the pandemic in its early days, has recorded just 972,000 cases and 5,226 deaths from covid-19. But tourists shouldn’t expect unrestricted travel to that country anytime soon.

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