Japan to lift COVID-19 restrictions on foreign tourists from October

Japan to lift COVID-19 restrictions on foreign tourists from October
Tourists who come to Japan will enjoy a weak yen, which has plummeted so low against the dollar that the finance ministry on Thursday intervened for the first time since 1998. (AFP)
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Updated 23 September 2022

Japan to lift COVID-19 restrictions on foreign tourists from October

Japan to lift COVID-19 restrictions on foreign tourists from October
  • Japan, along with China, has been a holdout in continuing tough restrictions on visitors
  • But unlike China, Japan never imposed a strict lockdown during the crisis

NEW YORK: Japan announced Thursday that it will lift tough COVID-19 restrictions on foreign tourists, reopening the borders after two and a half years.
Speaking at the New York Stock Exchange, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the pandemic had interrupted the free flow of people, goods and capital that had helped the nation flourish.
“But from October 11, Japan will relax border control measures to be on par with the US, as well as resume visa-free travel and individual travel,” said Kishida, who is in the city for the United Nations General Assembly.
Japan, along with China, has been a holdout in continuing tough restrictions on visitors, as much of the world has moved on from the pandemic.
But unlike China, Japan never imposed a strict lockdown during the crisis.
Tourists who come to Japan will enjoy a weak yen, which has plummeted so low against the dollar that the finance ministry intervened in the currency market Thursday for the first time since 1998.
The return of the visa-waiver program suspended in March 2020 will restore the ease of access that saw a record 31.9 million foreign visitors to the country in 2019.
Since June, Japan has allowed tourists to visit in groups accompanied by guides, a requirement that was further relaxed to include self-guided package tours.
The cautious approach to reopening has been deliberate, said James Brady, Japan analysis lead at US-based consultancy Teneo.
Kishida “took office a year ago knowing that perceived mishandling of the pandemic had been a key factor in undermining public confidence” in his predecessor’s government, Brady said.
“He has been extremely careful not to repeat those mistakes.”
Japan has recorded around 42,600 coronavirus deaths in total — a vastly lower rate than many other countries — and 90 percent of residents aged 65 and over have had three vaccine shots.
There is no law requiring people to wear masks, but they are still near-ubiquitous in public places like trains and shops, with many Japanese willing to sport masks when ill even before the pandemic.
On the streets of Tokyo, members of the public hailed the announcement.
“I think it’s a good thing to gradually bring foreign tourists back here,” said Michio Kano, 76, who runs a bar.
He called for the move to be followed by a loosening of anti-COVID-19 rules.
“You can’t soften the rules on one side for foreigners and still say to the Japanese, ‘Don’t do this or that’,” he said.
Katsunori Mukai, 28, said Japan should welcome tourists as long as there are no surges in cases.
“It’s true that here we still have the culture of wearing masks and other things but I think that if there is no serious danger of catching a serious disease in general, people can come as many times as they want,” he said.
While the return of mass tourism should give a “slight bump” to Japan’s economy, the benefits are likely to be limited by China’s zero-COVID-19 policy, Brady, the analyst, said.
“Much of the economic benefit pre-pandemic came from high numbers of Chinese visitors coming and spending lots of money on tech products (and) cosmetics,” he explained.
But “currently, Chinese citizens face their own travel restrictions at home and won’t be traveling to Japan in large numbers.”
There is pent-up demand for travel to the country, however, according to Olivier Ponti, vice president of insights for travel analytics firm ForwardKeys.
“Searches for travel to Japan reached their highest point this year at the end of August,” and while flight bookings were just 16 percent of 2019 levels in early September, “we’d expect bookings to jump” when the visa rules are scrapped, Ponti said.
Demand from Europe may still be subdued “due to the increase in the cost of living in Europe caused by the Russian-Ukraine crisis plus the rising fuel costs driving up air travel costs,” said Liz Ortiguera, CEO of the Pacific Asia Travel Association.


Russia’s Federation Council ratifies annexation of four Ukrainian regions

Russia’s Federation Council ratifies annexation of four Ukrainian regions
Updated 04 October 2022

Russia’s Federation Council ratifies annexation of four Ukrainian regions

Russia’s Federation Council ratifies annexation of four Ukrainian regions
  • Russian Federation Council unanimously ratified legislation to annex Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia

MOSCOW: The upper house of Russia’s parliament voted on Tuesday to approve the incorporation of four Ukrainian regions into Russia, as Moscow sets about formally annexing territory it sized from Kyiv during its seven-month conflict.
In a session on Tuesday, the Federation Council unanimously ratified legislation to annex the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine, following a similar vote in the State Duma, Russia’s lower house, yesterday.
The documents now pass back to the Kremlin for President Vladimir Putin’s final signature to complete the process of formally annexing the four regions, representing around 18 percent of Ukraine’s internationally-recognized territory.
Russia declared the annexations after holding what it called referendums in occupied areas of Ukraine. Western governments and Kyiv said the votes breached international law and were coercive and non-representative.

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Indonesia stadium disaster death toll rises to 131

Indonesia stadium disaster death toll rises to 131
Updated 04 October 2022

Indonesia stadium disaster death toll rises to 131

Indonesia stadium disaster death toll rises to 131

MALANG, Indonesia: The death toll from an Indonesian football riot that turned into a stampede rose by six to 131 on Tuesday, a local health official said.
The six additional victims who succumbed to their injuries “have been sent home to their families,” said Wiyanto Wijoyo, head of the health agency in Malang Regency where the tragedy took place.
The police chief in Indonesia’s East Java province where a stadium tragedy left 131 dead at the weekend apologized Tuesday for the disaster.
“As the regional police chief, I am concerned, saddened and at the same time I am sorry for the shortcomings in the security process,” Nico Afinta told a press conference in the city of Malang.


Prison chief killed in Indian Kashmir, militants claim responsibility

Prison chief killed in Indian Kashmir, militants claim responsibility
Updated 04 October 2022

Prison chief killed in Indian Kashmir, militants claim responsibility

Prison chief killed in Indian Kashmir, militants claim responsibility
  • Body of Hemant Kumar Lohia was found at his home on Monday night in the Jammu region
  • Muslim-majority Kashmir is divided between mostly Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan which both claim it in full

SRINAGAR: The chief of the prison service in Indian Kashmir has been murdered, police said on Tuesday, as the powerful interior minister visited the disputed Himalayan region that has been riven by a decades-long insurgency.
The body of Hemant Kumar Lohia, 57, the region’s director general of prisons, was found at his home on Monday night in the Jammu region, police said.
Police said a household helper was the main suspect but an Islamist militant group said it had targeted and killed Lohia.
Muslim-majority Kashmir is divided between mostly Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan which both claim it in full.
Separatist Muslim groups have fought against Indian security forces in its part of Kashmir since the late 1980s.
Senior police officer Mukesh Singh said Lohia’s throat had been cut and his body bore burns. The initial investigation suggested it was not a “terror act” but police were investigating, he said.
The People’s Anti-Fascist Front (PAFF), a militant group that emerged after India’s government reorganized its only Muslim-majority state into two federally administered territories in 2019, said it had assassinated Lohia.
Police have blamed groups like the PAFF for targeted killing but militants have not killed any security official of Lohia’s seniority in recent years.
“This is just a beginning of such high profile operations,” the PAFF said in a statement on social media, adding that the killing were a “small gift” to Home Minister Amit Shah, who arrived in Kashmir on Monday on a three-day visit.
Reuters could not immediately verify the authenticity of the PAFF statement.


North Korea fires mid-range ballistic missile that flies over Japan

North Korea fires mid-range ballistic missile that flies over Japan
Updated 04 October 2022

North Korea fires mid-range ballistic missile that flies over Japan

North Korea fires mid-range ballistic missile that flies over Japan
  • The last time North Korea fired a missile over Japan was reportedly in 2017
  • Tokyo also confirmed the launch of a suspected ballistic missile by Pyongyang

SEOUL: North Korea fired a mid-range ballistic missile Tuesday which flew over Japan, Seoul and Tokyo said, a significant escalation as Pyongyang ramps up its record-breaking weapons-testing blitz.
The last time North Korea fired a missile over Japan was reportedly in 2017, at the height of a period of “fire and fury” when Pyongyang’s leader Kim Jong Un traded insults with then-US president Donald Trump.
South Korea’s military said it had “detected one suspected medium-range ballistic missile that was launched from Mupyong-ri area of Jagang Province at around 7:23 am (22:23 GMT) today and passed over Japan in the eastern direction.”
In a statement, the Joint Chiefs of Staff said the military was “maintaining a full readiness posture and closely cooperating with the United States while strengthening surveillance and vigilance.”
Tokyo also confirmed the launch of a suspected ballistic missile by Pyongyang, activating the country’s missile alert warning system and issuing evacuation warnings.
“A ballistic missile is believed to have passed over our country and fallen in the Pacific Ocean. This is an act of violence following recent repeated launches of ballistic missiles. We strongly condemn this,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters.
With talks long-stalled, nuclear-armed North Korea has doubled down on Kim’s military modernization plans this year, testing a string of banned weaponry, including an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) for the first time since 2017.
Last week, Pyongyang fired short-range ballistic missiles on four occasions, including just hours after US Vice President Kamala Harris flew out of Seoul.
The latest bout of intense weapons testing by Pyongyang comes as Seoul, Tokyo and Washington ramp up joint military drills to counter growing threats from the North.
South Korea, Japan and the United States staged anti-submarine drills Friday — the first in five years — just days after Washington and Seoul’s navies conducted large-scale exercises in waters off the peninsula.
Such drills infuriate North Korea, which sees them as rehearsals for an invasion.
Harris toured the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone that divides the peninsula while on a trip that aimed to underscore her country’s “ironclad” commitment to South Korea’s defense against the North.
Washington has stationed about 28,500 troops in South Korea to help protect it from the North.
“If Pyongyang has fired a missile over Japan, that would represent a significant escalation over its recent provocations,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.
“Pyongyang is still in the middle of a provocation and testing cycle,” he said.
“The Kim regime is developing weapons such as tactical nuclear warheads and submarine-launched ballistic missiles as part of a long-term strategy to outrun South Korea in an arms race and drive wedges among US allies,” he added.
South Korean and US officials have also been warning for months that Kim was preparing to conduct another nuclear test.
The officials said they believed this could happen soon after China’s upcoming party congress on October 16.
North Korea, which is under multiple UN sanctions for its weapons programs, typically seeks to maximize the geopolitical impact of its tests with careful timing.
The isolated country has tested nuclear weapons six times since 2006, most recently in 2017.


King Charles III, Queen Consort host members of UK’s South Asian community in recognition of contributions

King Charles III, Queen Consort host members of UK’s South Asian community in recognition of contributions
Updated 03 October 2022

King Charles III, Queen Consort host members of UK’s South Asian community in recognition of contributions

King Charles III, Queen Consort host members of UK’s South Asian community in recognition of contributions
  • The king has been involved with British Asian communities for many years through his work with the British Asian Trust
  • He founded the trust in 2007 with a group of British Asian business leaders

LONDON: King Charles III and his wife Camilla, the queen consort, hosted guests of South Asian heritage in Edinburgh on Monday in recognition of their contributions to British society.

The royals welcomed around 300 people at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh to recognise the contribution that South Asian communities in the UK have made to the National Health Service, arts, media, education, business and the armed forces.

The king has been involved with British Asian communities for many years through his work with the British Asian Trust which he founded in 2007 with a group of British Asian business leaders.

The royal couple are visiting Scotland as part of their first joint public engagement since the end of the royal mourning period to remember Queen Elizabeth II.

They were visiting to formally give city status to Dunfermline, the birthplace of King Charles I.

Dunfermline was among eight towns that won city status as part of Platinum Jubilee celebrations earlier this year to mark Elizabeth’s 70 years on the throne.