Photo/Illutration The Nakamise shopping street in Tokyo’s Asakusa district is packed with visitors on May 6. (Jin Nishioka)

Japan will finally allow tourists back in but on a strictly trial basis after a near-blanket ban on entry by foreign visitors since the COVID-19 pandemic flared in early 2020.

But like everything else in the government’s handling of the public health crisis to date, the process will be a gradual one contingent on whether fresh cases of the novel coronavirus start increasing again.

Small groups of foreign tourists could be allowed into Japan as early as this month, according to several government sources.

Further discussions are planned to determine the specific conditions that would apply for entry.

In recent months, the government has gradually eased conditions for entry to business travelers, students and technical intern trainees.

The daily entry quota of 10,000 for foreign visitors is also expected to be gradually raised, according to the sources.

The new policy would initially entail several hundred tourists arriving on a trial basis.

Government officials have already stated they will assess whether the just-ended Golden Week of national holidays, when hordes of Japanese went on domestic trips, had impacted COVID-19 cases.

This could lead to gradually relaxed entry restrictions from June, officials said.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida pledged in London during a speech May 5 that the restrictions would be relaxed in June to levels of other Group of Seven nations after consulting with experts on infectious diseases.