Japan drops ban on inbound flight bookings after confusion

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TOKYO, Dec 2 (Reuters) – Japan reversed on Thursday a ban on new inbound flight reservations, revealing confusion between government agencies and the public over Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s strategy to keep out the Omicron variant of coronavirus.

On Monday, Japan’s aviation bureau told airlines not to accept new reservations for December over Omicron, two cases of which have been found so far, but the abrupt move provoked worries among those aiming to return for year-end holidays.

Kishida said the move caused confusion, and Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno added that the prime minister had asked the transport ministry, which oversees the airline industry, to keep in mind the needs of returning Japanese.

“I understand the transport ministry has cancelled its instruction for the blanket suspension of new reservations and asked airlines anew to give sufficient consideration to the needs of returning Japanese nationals,” Matsuno told a regular news conference.

Airlines may now take new reservations as long as arrivals stay within a daily limit of 3,500, down from last month’s figure of 5,000, a transport ministry official said.

On Monday, Kishida banned new foreign entrants to Japan, unwinding border opening measures that started last month. Later, the ban widened to foreign residents of Japan arriving from 10 African nations, where Omicron was first identified.

The curbs on new flight reservations came to light on Wednesday.

On Thursday, transport minister Tetsuo Saito told reporters the aviation bureau had “responded speedily from the standpoint of emergency and prevention”, although without reporting to him.

He added, “I told the aviation bureau to respond carefully to the matter that greatly affects people’s livelihood.”

Photo – A woman walks through an emptied check-in area at Haneda International Airport in Tokyo, Japan. EPA-EFE/FRANCK ROBICHON

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