Japan's travel subsidy campaign kicked off Wednesday to help revive a domestic tourism industry stricken by the novel coronavirus, but with Tokyo excluded amid concerns about a resurgence in infections in urban areas.
The "Go To Travel" campaign, under which the government covers part of the cost of tourist trips, was launched despite worries the initiative could worsen the virus outbreak.
Japan's daily new coronavirus cases hit a record 795 on Wednesday, with Osaka Prefecture reporting 121 new infections, a record daily increase, and Tokyo confirming 238 cases.
Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike urged residents to "take thorough anti-infection measures and avoid going outside as much as possible," while warning against a "second wave" of infections ahead of a four-day weekend from Thursday.
Japan fully lifted a state of emergency in late May.
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also called for thoroughly implementing anti-infection measures and said, "We will resume economic activities carefully with the cooperation of people."
The travel subsidy campaign was thrown into disarray last week when the government made an abrupt decision to remove trips to Tokyo and by its residents from the scheme because of a spike in new cases in the capital.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Wednesday the government has no plans to exclude Osaka Prefecture from the campaign while the number of infections there is on the rise.
Some people expressed criticism over how the campaign has been implemented.
"I find it unfair (that Tokyo was excluded)," said a 59-year-old woman living in the city, who was leaving from Haneda airport for a four-day trip with her 62-year-old sister to Hiroshima and Shimane prefectures and elsewhere.
Others complained that application websites for the campaign are not user-friendly.
Haruna Niimi, 24, who was leaving for Tottori Prefecture from Hokkaido's New Chitose Airport to meet a friend, said she gave up on using them.
"I checked various websites but found the application procedure too complicated," she said.
The four-day weekend from Thursday, which includes a specially created Sports Day holiday on Friday, was originally set to mark the start of the now-postponed Tokyo Olympics.
As demand for domestic trips is expected to increase, a runway used for low cost carriers at Narita airport, east of Tokyo, reopened Wednesday for the first time in three months.
Under the 1.35 trillion yen ($12.6 billion) tourism push, the government will eventually subsidize up to half of travel expenses, including accommodation and transport fees. Initially, it will provide discounts worth 35 percent of total costs.
The remaining 15 percent will be covered by coupons to be issued after September for food, shopping and other travel activities offered at destinations.
The government decided last Thursday to exclude trips to and from Tokyo after the capital reported a single-day record of 286 new infections.
In Japan, Tokyo is the area hit hardest by the virus, accounting for about a third of infections in the country.
Tourism minister Kazuyoshi Akaba initially said the government had no plans to compensate for cancellation fees incurred by the decision to exclude Tokyo at the last minute but reversed the stance on Tuesday amid a public outcry a day before the launch.
The subsidy scheme was initially slated to begin in August before Japan's summer holidays around the middle of the month, when many people living in major cities return to their hometowns. But it was moved forward in time for the four-day long weekend from Thursday.