TOKYO: The government will suspend its Go To Travel tourism support program from Monday until Jan. 11 across Japan in response to a surge in new coronavirus infection cases.
The government hopes to slow the spread of the coronavirus by taking intensive countermeasures, including the nationwide suspension, during the year-end and New Year’s holiday period.
With the end of the epidemic out of sight, the focus is whether the government will decide to resume the program, which provides discounts to travelers, after the turn of the year.
“I want you people to refrain from holding gatherings as much as possible and cooperate in order to stop the spread of infections during the year-end and New Year’s holiday period,” Suga told a press conference Friday.
Go To Travel is a key policy program pushed by Suga, who puts priority on resuming economic activities.
Though the coronavirus is raging across the country, Suga claims that there has been no evidence attributing the spread of the disease to Go To Travel.
At the press conference, Suga said that only 340 infection cases have been confirmed among the cumulative 70 million people who used the program.
Suga abruptly announced the nationwide suspension plan Dec. 14, apparently alarmed by rapid falls in public support for his cabinet in media polls.
His administration aims to shore up the support ratings by stepping up COVID-19 countermeasures, also including a request for restaurants and bars in areas with many infection cases to close early.
With the strengthened measures, the government also hopes to back up prefectural governors trying hard to contain the coronavirus crisis.
“The suspension of Go To Travel will help broaden options for countermeasures that the governors can take,” a senior official of the central government said.
But there has been no sign that new infection cases are starting to decrease. Japan is seeing 2,000 to nearly 4,000 new infection cases each day, hitting a record high above 3,800 on Friday.
With the country’s medical systems under strain, the Japan Medical Association has declared an emergency.
The unabated spread of the virus apparently reflects coronavirus restriction fatigue and lowered guard against the disease among the public.
“Many people went out for Christmas,” a source close to Suga said. “Infections will increase after the turn of the year.”
At Friday’s press conference, Suga said that his government failed to provide enough explanation to the public when it announced the Go To Travel suspension.
The key would be whether his administration will be able to win public support by presenting clear standards, regardless of whether to resume the program or continue the suspension.