The number of foreign visitors to Japan in 2021 dropped to 245,900, the lowest since 1964 when comparable data became available, as the country enforced tighter border controls amid the coronavirus pandemic, government data showed Wednesday.

The figure plunged 94.0 percent from 2020, the sharpest fall on record, the Japan Tourism Agency said. Compared with the pre-pandemic level in 2019, it dropped 99.2 percent.

An arrival lobby for international flights at Tokyo's Haneda airport is deserted on Nov. 30, 2021. (Kyodo)

Monthly arrivals were highest in July at 51,055 due to visitors related to the Tokyo Olympics, held from July 23 to Aug. 8. As the Paralympic Games were held from Aug. 24 to Sept. 5, a total of 25,916 travelers entered the country in August.

The events were held without spectators to prevent coronavirus infections.

Since then, the figure has been on a downward trend, falling to 12,100 in December, down 79.4 percent from a year earlier.

By country, the largest number of travelers came from China at 42,300, down 96.0 percent. Those from Vietnam came in second at 26,500, down 82.6 percent, followed by 20,000 from the United States, down 90.9 percent, and 19,000 from South Korea, down 96.1 percent.

The government had aimed to welcome 40 million foreign visitors in 2020 when the country was originally scheduled to host the Olympic and Paralympic Games, but the Summer Games were postponed for a year due to the pandemic.

The government has maintained its target of attracting 60 million visitors from abroad in 2030. But Koichi Wada, who heads the agency, told a press conference that he could not predict at the moment whether it is an attainable goal.

The number of Japanese traveling overseas in 2021 also decreased 83.9 percent to 512,200.

In response to a recent surge in infections driven by the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, the government decided Wednesday to expand a quasi-state of emergency to cover Tokyo and 12 other areas.

Quasi-emergency measures include allowing governors to ask restaurants and bars to close early and stop or limit the serving of alcohol.

The move is likely to squeeze domestic tourism further, battered by the pandemic.

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