Japan has announced it will end a two-year pandemic closure and reopen to tourists from 98 countries and regions next month, but travellers will only be allowed in as part of tour groups.
The decision comes after the government last week said it would test allowing small group tours with visitors from the US, Australia, Thailand and Singapore from this month.
On Thursday, the government revised border controls to resume accepting package tours from the 98 countries and regions – including Britain, the US, France, Spain, Canada and Malaysia – starting on 10 June.
Japan will also expand the number of airports that accept international flights to seven, adding Naha in its southern Okinawa prefecture and New Chitose near Sapporo in northern Hokkaido.
For most of the pandemic Japan has barred all tourists and allowed only citizens and foreign residents entry, though even the latter have periodically been shut out.
All arrivals have to test negative to Covid before travel to Japan and many must be tested again on arrival, though triple-vaccinated people coming from certain countries can skip the additional test as well as a three-day quarantine required for others.
Tour groups are expected to take responsibility for ensuring visitors respect Japan’s near-universal mask-wearing and other measures that have helped keep the toll from Covid comparatively low.
Just how many people will be able to take advantage of the careful reopening is unclear as Japan is planning to double a daily entry cap, but only to 20,000.
The prime minister, Fumio Kishida, has said he wants to ease border control measures, but moves are expected to proceed slowly, with strong public support for the current restrictions.
Japan welcomed a record 31.9 million foreign visitors in 2019 and had been on track to achieve its goal of 40 million in 2020 before the pandemic hit.