Japan will consider resuming its subsidy program aimed at promoting domestic tourism only in some parts of the country even if the current state of emergency over the novel coronavirus is completely lifted, tourism minister Kazuyoshi Akaba said Thursday.
The idea of potentially restarting the "Go To Travel" campaign comes as Japan has decided to end its second state of emergency for five prefectures west of the Tokyo metropolitan area at the end of this month as the number of coronavirus infections is no longer considered dire.
The five prefectures are Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo, Aichi and Gifu, officials said, adding that the plan will be finalized by the government's task force on measures against the virus on Friday after hearing opinions from health experts.
Fukuoka also asked the government to exclude the southwestern prefecture from the list, but no decision has been made, with some medical experts pointing to the need to further assess the situation as the hospital bed occupancy rate remains high.
Japan's second state of emergency was first declared for a month on Jan. 7 and later extended to March 7. Unlike the first one last spring, it only covered the Tokyo metropolitan area and some other areas of the country that saw a resurgence of infections.
The government has also yet to decide whether to end the emergency for Tokyo and the neighboring prefectures of Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama on March 7, according to the officials.
Although the infection situation in Tokyo has improved in recent days, it still logged 340 new cases on Thursday, bringing its cumulative total to 11,740.
During a parliamentary session, Akaba, referring to the travel campaign -- which was blamed by critics for triggering the resurgence -- said the government has no plans to restart the program immediately after the emergency is lifted.
Akaba said the government needs to carefully analyze the infection situation of each region before restarting the campaign, which was halted across the country on Dec. 28.
"It's not an all or nothing, black or white (decision)," said the minister, who had earlier touched on the possibility of resuming the subsidy program by only allowing travel within respective prefectures that have relatively low infection figures.
Some government officials have said parts of the program should be revised, such as reducing discount rates and requesting that people use the campaign only for weekday trips.
The government is also looking to ease restrictions in stages for events in the targeted prefectures once the emergency is lifted, following a one-month observation period.
The easing could include raising the limit on number of spectators from the current 5,000 or 50 percent of a venue's capacity to a maximum crowd of 10,000 people. It may also permit a full house for venues such as movie theaters where people do not speak loudly.