TOKYO (JAPAN) – According to a study published by the Journal of Clinical Medicine on Thursday, a domestic tourism campaign promoted by Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga may have contributed to a sharp increase in COVID cases in the country.
Though the government has said there is no evidence to link the “Go To” travel campaign to coronavirus spread, Suga suspended it in December to contain mounting infections and also to tackle his dipping approval ratings over handling of the pandemic.
The campaign, which began in July, had offered various travel-related discounts and vouchers in a bid to boost regional economies hammered by the pandemic, but critics had warned that it might risked spreading the virus from cities to the countryside.
“The present study is the first to demonstrate that the number of travel-associated COVID-19 cases that involved crossing of prefectural borders increased during the Go To Travel campaign,” Kyoto University researchers Asami Anzai and Hiroshi Nishiura wrote in their study.
Nishiura has acted as an advisor to the Japanese government’s pandemic response, usually pushing for stricter measures to control the spread. He became known in local media as “Uncle 80%” for his advice that people reduce their social interactions by that amount.
The paper pointed out that the number of travel-related COVID cases during the campaign was around three times greater than the control period of one month prior to its kick-off.
The study looked at 3,978 confirmed COVID-19 cases between May and August, of which some 20% were travel-related.
Another study published last month found a higher incidence of COVID-19 symptoms among people who were part of the travel campaign.