July 17, 2020 / 3:17 AM / a month ago

Tokyo residents angered by exclusion from domestic travel subsidy

TOKYO (Reuters) - The Japanese government faced blowback on Friday after barring Tokyo residents from claiming a travel subsidy that is aimed at reviving a domestic tourism industry hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

Passersby wearing protective face masks are seen on the street amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Tokyo, Japan July 16, 2020. REUTERS/Issei Kato

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s $16 billion “Go To” tourism campaign was intended to promote travel across the country, but officials agreed on Thursday to exclude the capital after record numbers of coronavirus infections there.

“What makes you think that business trips or commuting won’t spread the coronavirus? Do you think it’s fair to exclude Tokyoites from a campaign that’s using taxpayers money?” said opposition lawmaker Ren Ho on Friday morning in a tweet addressed to Abe.

The hashtag #TokyoExcluded was trending on Twitter on Friday morning, amassing almost 100,000 tweets.

Tourism Minister Kazuyoshi Akaba said the decision to exclude Tokyo residents from receiving a 50% government subsidy for domestic trips booked through a travel agency was “heart-breaking.” The subsidy will also not be available for anybody travelling to Tokyo.

“The decision was made comprehensively by the government with input from experts,” Akaba told a news conference.

Some critics have said the entire campaign, which also includes subsidies for dining in restaurants and shopping expeditions, should be scrapped given the risk of spreading the coronavirus. It is due to begin on July 22.

Tokyo was responsible for almost half the 600 new COVID-19 infections reported on Thursday, Japan’s highest one-day increase in three months. Japan has reported a total of around 23,000 cases, including nearly 1,000 deaths.

Top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said Tokyo could be included in the travel subsidy programme if infection numbers recede, but also cautioned that their exclusion from the dining out subsidies and others was “under consideration.”

Data out this week underscored the plight of the domestic tourism industry, showing just 4 million international visitors in the first half of the year, a tenth of the government’s full-year target of 40 million.

($1 = 107.2400 yen)

Reporting by Sakura Murakami, Chang-Ran Kim and Linda Sieg; editing by Jane Wardell

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