TOKYO, Aug. 24 (Xinhua) -- Japan's "Go To Travel" subsidy campaign has been used by more than 2 million people since in was launched in July in a bid to kick-start the domestic tourism sector hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Japan's top government spokesperson Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, the campaign would continue to be supported by the government despite concerns over subsidizing travel would lead to the increased spread of the virus.
Suga said the industry needed help as it was essentially dying and the government would take advice from health experts on limiting the spread of the novel coronavirus.
"There are 9 million people working in the tourism industry and we can say that the industry is dying," he told a press briefing on the matter.
Suga said 10 cases of COVID-19 infections had been reported at hotels and other accommodations that had registered with campaign since it began on July 22.
The campaign has cost the government 1.35 trillion yen (12.7 billion U.S. dollars) and functions by eventually subsidizing up to half of a person's travel expenses.
The subsidies cover accommodation and transport fees and provides upfront discounts worth 35 percent of total costs.
After September, the outstanding 15 percent will be covered by coupons issued for food, shopping and other travel activities offered at destinations, under the campaign.
The "Go To Travel" campaign, however, has been met with resistance from numerous parties, including health experts.
Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike had spoken out about about the plan, suggesting the move could lead to the virus spreading across prefectural lines amid the metropolitan government's efforts to encourage people to refrain from making unnecessary trips across prefectural borders to curb the spread of the virus.
"It is like putting cooling and heating systems on at the same time. I'm not sure how we are supposed to deal with that," Koike said at the time amid a recent spike in COVID-19 cases in Tokyo and the prefectures surrounding the capital.
Her remarks came even though Tokyo residents were abruptly made ineligible for the subsidies. Travel to and from the capital was also not covered by the campaign.
Other local governments along with the opposition parties called on the government to reconsider the plan.
Main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan head Yukio Edano said it was "untimely" to be promoting tourism. "We need to stop and rethink it."
Toshio Nakagawa, president of the Japan Medical Association, said that "extreme caution" would be required by the government in launching the campaign.
"The program was originally planned to start after coronavirus infections are contained and it's not a good idea to bring it forward," Nakagawa said the government launching the campaign at an earlier time than initially planned so as to coincide with two national holidays which comprised a long weekend.
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