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[Japan] Battered tourism industry ready to help for smooth vaccine rollout


The tourism industry, battered by the prolonged coronavirus crisis, is moving to provide buses and facilities as COVID-19 vaccination sites and to operate call centers to handle reservations, as inoculations will be fully rolled out in mid-May.

The government has set an immediate goal of having about 36 million elderly people vaccinated by the end of July, and preparations are proceeding at a rapid pace. The tourism industry, which is in a difficult situation, will play a role in this effort.  

“By refurbishing the interiors of our vehicles, they’ll be transformed into mobile vaccination units that can be used in depopulated areas and other places where the majority of the population is elderly,” said a senior employee of IBS Inc. in Minato Ward, Tokyo.

The bus company has prepared a wheelchair-accessible vehicle, among other types, to be used as a mobile vaccination unit.

Persons to be vaccinated first take a seat in the front part of the bus, where they will fill in a medical questionnaire. In turn, they will receive their inoculation at a shot station in the middle area, then they can lie down in the rear of the bus if they feel sick. Acrylic panels are installed at each seat to prevent infections through airborne droplets.

The company owns about 40 buses, but sales in January and February were down 90% from the same period last year due to the sharp drop in travel demand. A number of school trips and excursions scheduled for this spring were canceled or postponed.

Since February, the company has been receiving inquiries about fees to use its buses from several municipalities in the Kanto region, many of which have areas difficult to access.

“We want to use our buses because maintenance and parking fees cost a lot,” the IBS official said. “When the supply of vaccines increases, there should be occasions for our buses to become useful.”

The use of buses as mobile vaccination units has already been introduced in the United States and France. The government has simplified the necessary procedures to use them for the purpose when fewer people use such buses as a means of transportation.

In addition to IBS, companies in Tokyo and Chiba Prefecture have also refurbished their vehicles and are encouraging local governments to use them as mobile inoculation units.

■ Offering banquet halls 

The Grand Hotel Kanachu Hiratsuka in Hiratsuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, will offer two of its banquet halls as vaccination sites to be used on May 22 and 23. The larger of the two halls has about 260 square meters of floor space to fit about 100 people seated. The room will be divided with partitions to secure a waiting area.

“The hotel is conveniently located near Hiratsuka Station, so hopefully the vaccinations of residents will proceed smoothly,” said an official of the Hiratsuka city government’s health division.

Some travel agencies have been commissioned for the task of accepting vaccination reservations.

Nippon Travel Agency Co. in Chuo Ward, Tokyo, will take assignments from about 140 municipalities nationwide to manage and operate vaccination-related call centers and reservation systems.

“We want to contribute as much as possible to bring back a world where people can easily travel and go sightseeing,” said an official in charge of the company’s public relations.

■ Transportation services

In areas where public transportation is scarce, there is a growing movement to secure a means of transportation for elderly people to go to vaccination sites.

According to a survey by the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry, local governments and business operators in 32 prefectures, as of March 23, decided or were considering distributing taxi tickets or operating chartered buses for people to come to vaccination sites.

In Teshikaga, Hokkaido, about 40% of the population is 65 or older. However, there are only a few train and bus services available per day that can take people to the vaccination venue in the town center.

The town government is planning to provide a free shuttle service using large taxis between the vaccination site and the homes of elderly residents who have chronic illnesses and find it difficult to get around on their own.

“The strength of a taxi service is that we can take passengers to their homes,” said an employee of Mashu Hired Car, a firm the municipality asked to operate the service. “We would like to cooperate with the town government to ensure a smooth vaccination rollout.”

Published : May 06, 2021

By : The Japan News/ANN