Tokyo, Aug. 31 (Jiji Press)–A program for visa-free visit to the disputed Russian-held northwestern Pacific islands by former residents has been canceled this year entirely amid the novel coronavirus epidemic.
On Monday, a group of former residents of the Japanese-claimed islands off Hokkaido decided to cancel the final one of the year’s planned free visits, which was scheduled to begin on Sept. 25.
There is a strong concern on the islands’ side about a possible coronavirus outbreak on the islands due to the visits, sources said.
The visa-free travel program consists of free visits, visits to relatives’ graves from 1964 and exchange visits from 1992.
For this year, seven free visits, three grave visits and nine exchange visits to the islands were scheduled to be held from mid-May to late September.
Before the cancellation of the final free visit, all of the planned grave and exchange visits had been canceled. The Hokkaido government, however, is still seeking to carry out a grave visit.
If the grave visit does not come true, it will be the first time since 1985 that not a single visa-free trip has taken place.
Apart from this program, the Japanese government is asking Russia to approve a grave visit by air, conducted from 2017 until 2019.
“There is no immediate prospect of this, but we’ll continue to discuss the matter with the Russian side,” a senior Foreign Ministry official said.