Border reopening mulled as Japan welcomes tours

COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE:
The large local outbreak makes travel restrictions ineffective, the health minister said, while travel agents are asking for a reopening policy

  • By Yang Yuan-ting, Chen Hsin-yu and Jonathan Chin / Staff reporters, with staff writer

Reopening the borders “is just a matter of time,” the Central Epidemic Command Center said yesterday, after Japan announced that Taiwanese travelers would soon be able to visit the country in package tours.

Japan on Thursday said that its borders would reopen, starting with travelers from 98 countries and regions on “blue” list, which represents places with the lowest risk of infection, including Taiwan.

On-arrival COVID-19 tests and quarantine requirements are being waived for travelers from a blue-listed country or region, Japanese officials said.

Photo: Bloomberg

Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who heads the center, told a daily news conference that officials have yet to finalize a reopening policy.

Taiwan had been cautious about relaxing travel restrictions due to the country’s relatively low rate of COVID-19 infections, but the distinction no longer exists amid the current local outbreak, Chen said.

About 6 percent of Taiwanese have been recorded as official COVID-19 cases, while about 4 to 6 percent of inbound travelers tested positive in rapid tests performed at border crossings, Chen said, adding that it can be concluded that overseas travel would have no effect on the spread of COVID-19 in Taiwan.

Separately, the Tourism Bureau said that Taiwanese tour groups would not be able to travel in Japan until Taipei relaxes its travel restrictions.

Tourism agencies have been barred from offering package tours in Japan since March 2020, when a ban was implemented to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Contravening the regulation could result in a warning followed by a fine of between NT$5,000 and NT$10,000, it said, citing the Regulations Governing Travel Agencies (旅行業管理規則).

Several travel agencies in February submitted a bid to organize package tours in Japan with EVA Airlines before the plans were halted by the bureau, it said.

The government should lift pandemic border restrictions including on-arrival tests and quarantine in August, when the local outbreak is expected to abate, Providence University Department of Tourism associate professor Huang Cheng-tsung (黃正聰) said.

Notice of a border reopening should be issued well in advance to give agencies a head start preparations for the resumption of group tours, which need considerable time to organize, he said.

Taiwanese tour groups would have an opportunity to sell packages that would normally go to the Chinese tourism industry, given China’s continued ban on travel amid its “zero COVID” policy, he added.

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