TOKYO (BLOOMBERG) – Japan is set to more than double the number of people it will allow into the country and may scrap the need for a negative Covid-19 test to enter, as the last rich economy with stringent entry requirements still in place looks to join the rest of the world in easing pandemic curbs. 

The daily limit on tourists will be raised to 50,000 people as soon as next month from the current 20,000, broadcaster FNN reported, citing unidentified government officials.

The government is also considering a gradual easing, such as initially exempting fully vaccinated people, according to the Nikkei newspaper.

Travellers currently need to submit negative results of a PCR test taken within 72 hours of departure to Japan.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno declined to comment on Tuesday on the timing of any border easing, saying it would depend on Covid-19 conditions in Japan and overseas.

“Along with taking every measure to prevent contagion, we’ll also promote economic activity – and with border control measures, we’ll relax them in stages while keeping these two things in balance,” he told reporters.

Before the pandemic, Japan was in the middle of a tourism boom, with inbound visitors reaching a record in 2019.

Airlines, hotels and retailers are all eager to regain the business they lost. The small trickle of foreigners allowed into Japan last year spent 120 billion yen (S$1.2 billion). In 2019, they spent 4.8 trillion yen, or forty times more, according to the Japan Tourism Agency.

Airline shares rose in Tokyo trading, with Japan Airlines climbing as much as 2.6 per cent and ANA Holdings gaining 1.1 per cent.

Three months ago, the government unveiled, with limited fanfare, an initiative to start letting in visitors and their spending money.

The associated restrictions – including mandatory mask-wearing, temperature checks and limited free movement – as well as the stringent entry requirements, are making it difficult to attract visitors.

The ongoing curbs compare with places like Australia, Singapore and the UK, which impose few if any restrictions to entry now, and are getting a head start in reviving their beleaguered tourism industries. 

Separately, Japan is planning to limit the detailed reporting that medical facilities must provide on coronavirus cases to high-risk individuals, broadcaster NHK reported, as the country mulls classifying the pathogen as endemic.