TOKYO (Reuters) - Foreign tourists visiting Japan will be required to wear masks, take out private medical insurance and be chaperoned throughout their stay, the government said on Tuesday, as it plans a gradual opening from two years of COVID-19 restrictions.
Only visitors on package tours will be allowed in during the first phase of reopening, from June 10, the Japan Tourism Agency (JTA) said, adding that travel agency guides accompanying visitors will have to ensure they wear their masks.
"Tour guides should frequently remind tour participants of necessary infection prevention measures, including wearing and removing masks, at each stage of the tour," the JTA said in its guidelines.
"Even outdoors, the wearing of masks should continue in situations where people are conversing in close proximity."
Japan has imposed some of the strictest border controls in the world over the course of the pandemic, banning the entry of almost all non-residents.
As most of the rest of the world opens up from COVID lockdowns, Japan is also relaxing its rules. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has pledged to bring border measures into line with other wealthy nations.
The government has recently begun relaxing mask guidance for the general public although the coverings are ubiquitous. Wearing masks to prevent the spread of germs and fend off pollen was common in Japan before the coronavirus pandemic.
Japan conducted "test tours" of groups of about 50 people last month, most of them travel agents, but one of the participants tested positive for COVID.
James Jang, a travel agent from Australia who took part in one of the test tours, said the rules would likely put some people off for now.
"Clients will be OK with wearing a mask indoors but wearing them 24 hours is a hassle," Jang told Reuters.
"The cost of having a guide at all times may deter clients until later when they have more flexibility."
In 2019, Japan hosted 31.9 million foreign visitors, who spent 4.81 trillion yen ($36.28 billion).
($1 = 132.5700 yen)
(Reporting by Maki Shiraki and Rocky Swift in Tokyo; Editing by Robert Birsel)