Japan’s easing of a two-year ban on foreign tourists seeks to balance the enormous economic importance of tourism with concerns that travelers would trigger a COVID-19 outbreak, insiders say.
Under the decision, Japan will allow in a limited number of foreign tourists on package tours starting June 10. Last week a few “test tours”, mainly of overseas travel agents, started to arrive.
Relaxing some of the world’s strictest pandemic border measures required months of pressure from travel and tourism executives, three insiders told Reuters, describing both the government’s fears of public backlash if infections spiked and the industry’s concerns of an economic wipeout.
“There were worries that foreign tourists would include a lot of people with bad manners – people who don’t wear masks or don’t use hand sanitiser and that infections could spread again,” said one tourism company executive, who like the others spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
The industry pressed Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its junior partner as well as government ministries, he said, but initially found them unresponsive.
Government resistance softened after Japan’s “Golden Week” holidays in May, when people travelled domestically but infections didn’t sharply increase, the executive said.
“If the government doesn’t open up the country, more companies will go bankrupt, and that’s no good politically,” he said.
Kishida’s LDP faces an election in July. Although the closed-border policy was overwhelmingly popular early on, the public has warmed up to reopening as the pandemic has eased and the cost of closure became more apparent. A recent Nikkei poll showed 67% of respondents felt it was “reasonable” to allow in foreign tourists.
The foreign ministry felt some pressure from overseas on relaxing border controls, and was one of a handful of ministries that tried to persuade Kishida’s government, another insider said.
Ultimately, foreign pressure may have helped ensure the change, said an industry executive.
Local governments remain worried that foreign tourists will bring in the coronavirus, the industry executive said, making it difficult to open the country fully.
Japan, where guidelines such as mask wearing and hand sanitising are scrupulously followed, has avoided the kind of massive infections that have swept through other countries.
Already, the test tours have hit a snag. The Japan Tourism Agency said on Monday that a participant on a trip to the southern prefecture of Oita had tested positive for COVID-19. The three other travellers are asymptomatic, it said, but the rest of the tour was cancelled.
Hotel operator Resol Holdings Co Ltd opened four new locations in the run-up to the Tokyo Olympics, expecting a massive influx of foreign tourists. It was a total bust, said operations manager Hideaki Kageyama.
“You can’t pay the bills, the rent, the labour without inbound tourism,” he said, adding that the border easing would not be enough to quickly revive the industry.
The number of hotels that shut down nationwide rose to the highest in five years last year, and hotel debt levels have more than doubled since 2019, according to researcher Teikoku Databank Ltd.
Government subsidies have helped stave off widespread bankruptcies. Resol might have gone under if it weren’t for side businesses such as golf courses and solar plants, Kageyama said.
Tourism was a rare bright spot for Japan before the pandemic. A record of about 32 million foreign tourists visited in 2019, spending some $38 billion. The government still aims to bring in 60 million tourists a year by 2030.
The rickshaw pullers in Tokyo’s Asakusa temple district have gotten by giving rides to domestic tourists instead of the throngs of Chinese who used to come.
“I want the foreigners to return,” said Yui Oikawa of Rise Up Tokyo Rickshaw. “It was more lively that way, with people from all over coming to Asakusa to pray or have a drink.”
There’s also a lost opportunity: the yen is at its weakest level in 20 years, making Japan a cheaper destination for travellers.
For now, tourists can only come on guided, package tours and as part of a quota of 20,000 arrivals each day, including residents.
Other Asian tourist destinations like Singapore and Thailand began welcoming back tourists in the second half of 2021 and in April further eased entry rules. Japan doesn’t have a timeline for a resumption of full-scale, independent tourism, and the easing could be reversed it COVID-19 worsens, the government says.
The small test tours that started last week are mainly made up of foreign travel agents. They have been subject to strict itineraries that have been mocked online as reminiscent of a visit to North Korea.
The test tours will help the government flesh out guidelines for trips from June 10, officials say.
But Clement Kueh, an Australian travel agent who arrived at Tokyo’s Haneda airport last week, said he and his colleagues still weren’t certain how authorities would define what constitutes “group” travel.
“We’re not sure what that means exactly,” he said.
Hot dog eating champ wins again in July 4 contest in New York
A man with the playful name Joey Chestnut wolfed down 63 hot dogs in 10 minutes Monday to win the annual July 4 competitive eating contest featuring America’s quintessential cookout food on Coney Island in New York.
Chestnut has now won 15 times but on Monday he fell way short of the record he set in 2020 when he downed 76 hotdogs, buns included, also in just 10 minutes.
So he apologized to the crowd and said he would do better next year.
Chestnut told AFP he trains by eating hot dogs often and taking part in eating contests featuring them about once a week.
After Monday’s virtuoso performance, he said he will not touch food again for a day.
Chestnut was the undisputed winner of the Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest, finishing far ahead of the field.
|Competitors from all over America and as far away as Australia tend to dunk their hotdogs in water or soda to make them easier to swallow in such rapid succession without gagging. Photo: AFP|
Second place went to one Geoffrey Esper with 47.5 franks and buns, and third to James Webb at 41.
“Joey Chestnut is a force from beyond who defies the laws of physics,” said contest host George Shea.
In the women’s category, Miki Sudo triumphed with 40 hot dogs in 10 minutes.
Sudo returned after sitting out last year because she was pregnant. This time she showed off her new baby. She fell short of her record of 48 franks.
Competitors from all over America and as far away as Australia tend to dunk their hotdogs in water or soda to make them easier to swallow in such rapid succession without gagging.
“The Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest is arguably the most iconic sporting event in American history,” Shea said.
“The event is a crucible through which greatness is forged.”
Australia floods worsen as thousands more flee Sydney homes
Torrential rains kept battering Australia’s east coast on Tuesday, intensifying the flood crisis in Sydney as thousands more residents were ordered to leave their homes after rivers swiftly rose past danger levels.
About 50,000 residents in New South Wales, most in Sydney’s western suburbs, have been told to either evacuate or warned they might receive evacuation orders, up from Monday’s 30,000, authorities said.
“This event is far from over,” New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet told reporters. “Wherever you are, please be careful when you’re driving on our roads. There are still substantial risks for flash flooding.”
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who returned to Australia Tuesday after a week-long trip to Europe, said he would tour the affected regions on Wednesday along with Perrottet.
|A vehicle is submerged by floodwaters in a residential area following heavy rains in the Windsor suburb of Sydney, Australia, July 5, 2022. Photo: Reuters|
The federal government has declared the floods a natural disaster, helping flood-hit residents receive emergency funding support.
The latest wild storm cell – which brought a year’s worth of rain in three days to some areas – is likely to ease in Sydney from Tuesday as the coastal trough moves north, the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) said.
But the risk of flooding could remain through the week with most river catchments already near capacity even before the latest deluge. Some regions have received 800mm (31.5 inches) of rain since Saturday, eclipsing Australia’s annual average rainfall of around 500mm (20 inches).
About 90mm (3.5 inches) of rain could fall over six hours in the state’s mid-north coast from Tuesday, reaching up to 125mm (5 inches) in some places, BoM said.
Winds up to 90 km per hour (56 miles per hour) are also forecast in several flood-hit places, raising the risk of falling trees and power lines.
|People walk past floodwaters following heavy rains in the Windsor suburb of Sydney, Australia, July 5, 2022. Photo: Reuters|
Battling rough seas, emergency crews continued their rescue operation on Tuesday to tow a bulk carrier ship that lost power off Sydney’s coast after tow lines broke in severe weather, officials said.
Major flooding is occurring at Windsor in Sydney’s west, its third and most severe flood this year, according to the weather bureau.
Footage on social media showed submerged roads and bridges, while emergency crews rescued stranded people from partially submerged vehicles that became stuck in rising waters.
Nigel Myron, a Windsor resident, said he has kept an inflatable boat ready if he had to evacuate though he is looking to move back to his place once waters recede.
“At the end of the day, what can you do? It is what it is and we dust ourselves off from the ashes and rebuild after the floods have come and gone,” Myron told ABC television.
|Floodwaters submerge residential areas following heavy rains in the Windsor suburb of Sydney, Australia, July 5, 2022. Photo: Reuters|
‘Substantial economic impact’
Federal Treasurer Jim Chalmers warned the economic impact from the floods “will be substantial”.
Floods have likely inundated several food-producing regions and that would hit supplies and lift prices, further straining family budgets already reeling under soaring prices of vegetables and fruits, Chalmers said.
“There’s no use tiptoeing around that … that inflation problem that we have in our economy will get worse before it gets better. It’s got a lot of sources, but this (flood) will be one of them,” Chalmers told Sky News.
The Reserve Bank of Australia flagged the floods “are also affecting some prices” as it raised its cash rate a hefty 50 basis points on Tuesday and flagged more tightening ahead to tame surging inflation. read more
The Insurance Council of Australia, which declared the floods a ‘significant event’, urged affected people to apply for claims, even though the full extent of damage was unknown now.
|People wade through floodwaters to enter a partially submerged residence following heavy rains in the Windsor suburb of Sydney, Australia, July 5, 2022. Photo: Reuters|
Hacker claims to have stolen 1 billion records of Chinese citizens from police
A hacker has claimed to have procured a trove of personal information from the Shanghai police on one billion Chinese citizens, which tech experts say, if true, would be one of the biggest data breaches in history.
The anonymous internet user, identified as “ChinaDan”, posted on hacker forum Breach Forums last week offering to sell the more than 23 terabytes (TB) of data for 10 bitcoin, equivalent to about $200,000.
“In 2022, the Shanghai National Police (SHGA) database was leaked. This database contains many TB of data and information on Billions of Chinese citizen,” the post said.
“Databases contain information on 1 Billion Chinese national residents and several billion case records, including: name, address, birthplace, national ID number, mobile number, all crime/case details.”
Reuters was unable to verify the authenticity of the post.
The Shanghai government and police department did not respond to requests for comment on Monday.
Reuters was also unable to reach the self-proclaimed hacker, ChinaDan, but the post was widely discussed on China’s Weibo and WeChat social media platforms over the weekend with many users worried it could be real.
The hashtag “data leak” was blocked on Weibo by Sunday afternoon.
Kendra Schaefer, head of tech policy research at Beijing-based consultancy Trivium China, said in a post on Twitter it was “hard to parse truth from rumour mill”.
If the material the hacker claimed to have came from the Ministry of Public Security, it would be bad for “a number of reasons”, Schaefer said.
“Most obviously it would be among biggest and worst breaches in history,” she said.
Zhao Changpeng, CEO of Binance, said on Monday the cryptocurrency exchange had stepped up user verification processes after the exchange’s threat intelligence detected the sale of records belonging to 1 billion residents of an Asian country on the dark web.
He said on Twitter that a leak could have happened due to “a bug in an Elastic Search deployment by a (government) agency”, without saying if he was referring to the Shanghai police case. He did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.
The claim of a hack comes as China has vowed to improve protection of online user data privacy, instructing its tech giants to ensure safer storage after public complaints about mismanagement and misuse.
Last year, China passed new laws governing how personal information and data generated within its borders should be handled.
Hanoi streets flooded by massive rainstorm
Hanoi to build $4.3mn road tunnel through Red River dyke
Vietnam’s 2022 economic growth projected at 7%
Revenue in the IT market is to reach $57 billion
Construction waste dumping recurs in Hanoi
ASEAN discusses Russia-Ukraine, Myanmar issues
$1.9 billion allocated to build Mekong Delta expressway
E-waste collection at a standstill in Hà Nội
A significant stride in the introduction of Tungsten into battery technology
Củ Chi lures investor interest with beneficial policies, location
First Vietnamese representative at a Winter Olympic
Da Nang museums attracting domestic visitors with free entry policy
Nom, nom, Việt Nam – Episode 76: Fried cheese sticks
In Sa Pa, ethnic children forced to peddle on streets in bitterly cold night
Nom, nom, Việt Nam – Episode 74: Huế beef noodle soup
Business1 week ago
A significant stride in the introduction of Tungsten into battery technology
Life1 week ago
New music series refreshes hit songs
Life2 weeks ago
Leading Vietnamese musicians to perform together
Politics2 weeks ago
Việt Nam willing to help Mozambique ensure food security: President
Sci-tech-environment1 week ago
Workshop seeks to promote responsible tourism and wildlife conservation
Life2 weeks ago
Four Vietnamese cities set to host 2022 Danish Film Weeks
Politics2 weeks ago
President Nguyễn Xuân Phúc meets voters in HCM City’s District 1
Business1 week ago
Bình Dương – attractive destination for green industries: EuroCham official