Tokyo (Reuters) – Japan on Saturday moved to contain the economic impact of a coronavirus outbreak originating in China as strict new measures aimed at limiting the spread of the virus, including targeting foreign visitors, came into effect.
Japan had 17 confirmed cases as of Friday, including some without symptoms. One of the most recent was a bus guide who worked on a bus tour for tourists from China – the same tour as a bus driver who also came down with the virus.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a Saturday meeting of a government task force coordinating Japan’s response to the virus to come up with steps aimed at easing the impact of the outbreak on Japan’s economy.
Abe has made tourism a key part of his economic policy, with a large proportion of foreign visitors from China, and major Japanese companies have a number of factories in China.
“I ask ministers to compile measures to use reserves (in the state budget) and implement them as soon as possible,” Abe was quoted by Kyodo news agency as saying.
“The new coronavirus is having a major impact on tourism, the economy and our society as a whole. The government will do its utmost to address the impact.”
No further details were given, though Abe stressed ensuring that Japanese residents have access to medical checkups and masks, which have been selling out around the nation.
New measures to fight the disease took effect on Saturday, including banning the entry of Chinese holding passports issued by Hubei, where the disease is thought to have originated, as well as all foreigners who had visited the province within two weeks, whether they show symptoms or not.
The government also brought forward implementing measures including compulsory hospitalisation and the use of public funds for treatment by six days to Saturday.
Of the 2.6 million tourists who came to Japan in December 2019, nearly 600,000 were Chinese, outnumbered only by South Koreans, government data shows. Japan aims to have 40 million tourists visit the country in 2020, up from 31.8 million in 2019.
On Friday, the president of Japanese airline ANA Holdings said it was considering suspending flights to China after February reservations plunged, Jiji news agency reported.
JTB Corporation, Japan’s largest travel agency, said it was suspending tours to China throughout February, Kyodo news agency reported.
(Reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)