Japan is set to ease border rules for Chinese visitors as early as April, permitting entrance without prior coronavirus testing if they have been vaccinated at least three times, Fuji News Network (FNN) reported on Thursday.

The move could pave the way for the return of more Chinese tourists, who visited Japan in vast numbers prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, and help rebuild a tourism industry that is a pillar of the national economy.

Chinese visitors currently have to undergo a test for the virus prior to coming to Japan and show proof they are not infected, but this is set to change to match the criteria for visitors from other nations - showing proof they have been vaccinated three times or more.

The change could take effect from early April, FNN said, quoting government sources, although random testing on arrival might still take place.

The number of visitors to Japan has picked up in recent months but the national tourism agency said last month's figure was still down 46% compared with February 2019.

(Reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by Christina Fincher)