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Update on Japan
Japan on Monday 8 May downgraded the legal status of COVID-19 to the same category as seasonal influenza and greatly relaxed its related health measures, marking a major shift in its approach after three years of dealing with the coronavirus.
The reclassification of COVID-19 to Class 5 means decisions on anti-coronavirus prevention measures are now up to individuals and businesses. But experts are still calling on the government to ensure medical institutions can properly respond to another potential future surge in the number of infections.
The government has removed most of its guidelines, such as quarantine periods of seven days for people who test positive for the disease and five days for those who have been in close contact with an infected person. Residents of Japan are also to be charged for coronavirus-related outpatient care and hospitalization, although subsidies are available for expensive treatment. COVID-19 patients will also receive medical treatment in ordinary hospitals instead of designated facilities.
The disease was categorized in 2020 as a special public health threat equivalent to or stricter than Class 2, which covers infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS. The government formally decided on 27 April to downgrade the coronavirus’ legal status as the vaccination program, among other factors, has made the disease less deadly, while calls for rejuvenating the pandemic-hit economy have grown. The preparedness of the health care system to withstand a future outbreak was also taken into account.
Under the reclassification, the government will also no longer legally be able to recommend hospitalization for coronavirus patients or declare a state of emergency, under which governors were able to request the reduction of opening hours for businesses and could close or impose fines for those that did not comply.
The government said that around 8,300 medical institutions, comprised of 90% of hospitals nationwide plus some clinics, will have the capacity for up to 58,000 COVID-19 inpatients by the end of September, with around 44,000 institutions accepting outpatients, up from 42,000 last month.
Japan has already lifted its rules on the wearing of face masks from 13 March, leaving the decision up to individuals. Despite the relaxation on face coverings, the majority of commuters around Tokyo Station on Monday morning still wore masks.
The government lifted COVID-19 border controls for all arrivals on 29 April, the start of the annual Golden Week holiday period, meaning entrants are no longer required to present certification of at least three coronavirus vaccination doses or a negative coronavirus test taken within 72 hours of departure.
Even after the downgrade, coronavirus vaccinations will remain free of charge until the end of March 2024, and subsidies of up to 20,000 yen a month will be provided for coronavirus-related hospitalization until September this year.
On Monday, the government began vaccination programs for the elderly and those with underlying diseases, alongside medical and nursing care workers, for the current fiscal year that began in April. For some, it will be their sixth round of inoculation. For students who become infected, the government has said they should be absent for five days after showing symptoms, and for one day after they have recovered. The government also offers similar guidance to others in response to calls from nursing care providers who wish to know when they can return to work after becoming infected.
Even after patients recuperate, the government recommends they wear a face mask for 10 days and refrain from coming in contact with the elderly or others at higher risk of developing serious symptoms.
Issues remain, however, around providing a suitable environment for the elderly at medical facilities and institutions, as infections continue to be reported nationwide. At the Tokyo metropolitan government’s comprehensive coronavirus consultations call center that began operations Monday, phones were ringing constantly. An official said the center “cannot let its guard down” against infections.
The reclassification of the virus and the easing of public health measures could make it difficult to effectively monitor the number of infections in Japan if they begin rising again, said Tetsuya Matsumoto, a professor at the International University of Health and Welfare.
“The medical system, which appears to be improving, may not actually have the capacity to sufficiently respond. The challenge is how to steadily increase the number of medical institutions that can receive patients,” Matsumoto said.
Officials at Japan’s transportation firms are looking at ways to support a government campaign for a carbon-free society.
On Monday they tested out a vehicle that could make a big difference — a hydrogen-powered fuel-cell truck that emits no carbon dioxide. Company representatives put the vehicle through its paces at the event, organized by the industry ministry and other parties.
The truck is the creation of Japanese automakers Isuzu and partner Toyota. The firms say it can get 260 kilometers on a 10-minute charge. Fuel-cell vehicles have a longer cruising range than EVs and are expected to play a big role in long-distance trucking.
One attendee said he’s impressed by how smooth the truck feels. He said it puts less stress on the driver’s body, and hopefully will help reduce accidents involving truck drivers who work long hours.
Japan’s energy conservation law says that by 2030, 5% of trucks at big transportation firms should be hydrogen fuel cell or electric.
Government officials say there are currently plans to put about 300 fuel-cell trucks on the road this year in areas that include Tokyo and Fukushima prefectures.
The government’s annual Cool Biz energy-saving campaign for late spring and summer kicked off across Japan on Monday 8 May.
Some employees at the Environment Ministry wore Okinawa’s kariyushi summer shirts, Kyodo News reported. Cool Biz, which will last until 30 September, encourages workers to dress down, ditching their suits and ties for open-necked, short-sleeved shirts in their offices. It also suggests office air conditioners be set at 28 degrees Celsius.
Cool Biz was started in 2005 by then-Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro with the aim of reducing CO2 emissions and electricity use. It started on 1 June each year until 2011 when it was brought forward by a month in a bid to conserve electricity after worries that there would be a power shortage following the 11 March disaster.
Japan’s estimated child population fell for the 42nd consecutive year to hit a new record low, government data showed Thursday, as Prime Minister Kishida Fumio calls for implementing “unprecedented” measures to boost the birthrate.
The number of children aged 14 or younger, including foreigners, was 14.35 million as of 1 April, down by around 300,000 from a year earlier, the data from the internal affairs ministry showed. The ratio of children to Japan’s overall population was 11.5%, down by 0.2%, also the lowest figure since 1950 when comparable data became available, according to the figures.
The government last month created the Children and Families Agency to oversee child care policies and is considering various measures, such as securing financial resources for child-rearing households, although doubts persist about whether such initiatives will be effective in reversing the declining birthrate.
According to U.N. data, Japan has the lowest ratio among 36 countries with a population of over 40 million, behind South Korea with 11.6% and Italy with 12.4%.
By gender, boys accounted for 7.35 million of the total number of children, with girls making up another 7 million, according to the data from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.
There were 3.21 million children between 12 and 14, compared to 2.43 million up to 2 years old, showing a continuing trend of fewer kids among younger demographics.
After peaking in 1954 at 29.89 million and experiencing a second baby boom in the early 1970s, Japan’s child population has continued to fall since 1982.
The government data also showed that as of October, there had been a decrease in the child population across all of Japan’s 47 prefectures. The southern prefecture of Okinawa had the highest overall ratio of children at 16.3%, while Akita Prefecture in northeastern Japan had the lowest at 9.3%.
An entertainment industry group in Japan is calling on the government to protect the rights and activities of artists in response to the growing amount of content generated by artificial intelligence.
The members of Arts Workers Japan are actors, musicians and other artists. The group announced at a news conference on Monday that it had submitted a request to the government.
The group presented the viewpoints of freelancers working in various fields to explain the impact of AI on artists’ activities.
A voice actor said AI can replicate artists’ expressions and performances after analyzing their voices for just a few hours. An artist noted that AI could infringe on copyrights by reusing works without their creators’ knowledge.
Speaking via a video link, stunt performer Sato Hiroshi said relying too much on AI to create dangerous-looking sequences would make it difficult for him to maintain or pass on his professional skills.
The head of the group, actress Morisaki Megumi, said rules should be established to protect the rights and activities of artists against AI-generated content. She said the group called on the government to take legislative action to protect artists’ rights to their images, voices and performances. She said the group also demanded that AI users should have to disclose where the data they use comes from and to pay the original creators.
Update on the Netherlands
After commemorating those who died during war on Remembrance Day (4 May), this year too, freedom was celebrated on Liberation Day (5 May) which included various festivals and events. It was mostly a rainy day, but that didn’t spoil the fun.
Liberation Day started at midnight with the lighting of the liberation fire in Wageningen. Mayor Floor Vermeulen did this together with 96-year-old British veteran Marie Scott.
In Wageningen, where the capitulation of the Germans was signed on 5 May 1945, the annual Liberation Parade also took place. Veterans and military successors walked in a parade through the Gelderland city.
Freedom meals were held in several places on Friday. During those dinners, people could meet and talk about freedom. Liberation festivals were organized in fourteen places. This year the festivals were traditionally kicked off with the lighting of the liberation fire at the festival in Overijssel. Prime Minister Mark Rutte was also present.
The KNMI had already warned: it was going to rain and thunder in some places. In Groningen, Assen and Zwolle, activities were even temporarily halted due to the weather. After a few hours, the festivals resumed.
Other festivals were less affected by the weather and were well attended, such as in Haarlem. In Rotterdam and Zoetermeer it even became so crowded that the organizations called on visitors not to come anymore.
The traditional conclusion of Liberation Day is the May 5 concert on the Amstel in front of the Royal Theater Carré. The royal couple and Prime Minister Rutte also came to watch the concert.
Employees of distribution centers have been on strike for eleven days in the past two weeks to enforce better working conditions. According to FNV, about fifteen hundred employees from five distribution centers participated. The actions led to empty shelves in many AH stores.
On Monday 8 May, the cabinet launched a new campaign to get employees out of the car and onto the bicycle because: better for the environment and better for health.
State Secretary Vivianne Heijnen (Infrastructure and Water Management) is launching a government campaign that will run for three years and is intended to convince the Dutch to cycle more often. Apart from the fact that an additional hundred thousand employees will have to cycle by early 2025, the cabinet wants to get everyone to cycle more. In 2027, there should be 20% more cycling than in 2017.
According to Heijnen, there is no country in the world with as much cycling as in the Netherlands: a quarter of all journeys in our country are made by bicycle. Yet that is too little. Too many people now take the car for short distances, the cabinet believes. Half of all car journeys are shorter than 7.5 kilometres, and a third are shorter than 5 kilometres. Those motorists must be convinced to take the bicycle from now on via TV commercials and other advertisements.
Heijnen believes that this can be done, because almost seven out of ten car users indicate in a behavioral study that they want to take the bicycle more often for short journeys. “Healthy living and more exercise are at the top of many people’s resolutions at the start of each new year,” she says. With the Da’s zo gefietst campaign, she wants to point out to motorists that cycling is healthier and cheaper.
Last year, the cabinet earmarked 780 million euros for better bicycle facilities. The money is intended for, among other things, better bicycle parking facilities at stations and more cycle paths to make residential areas more accessible. In addition, there is money to improve safety for cyclists. Last year the number of road deaths rose sharply: 737 people died in a traffic accident, 155 more than a year earlier. The increase was greatest among cyclists aged 75 or older.
The cabinet is working with provinces and municipalities on a plan to improve bicycle safety. That should be ready by the end of this year. A budget of 500 million euros is available for better road safety, such as the construction of separate bicycle and car lanes or the replacement of rectangular curbs with slanted ones, so that cyclists fall less easily. In addition, more than two hundred municipalities now have teaching programs for elderly people who want to and are able to have extra practice cycling in traffic until they reach an advanced age.
Parking at P+R locations is becoming a lot more expensive in Amsterdam. Visitors no longer necessarily have to travel to the center to use the reduced rate.
Amsterdam has eleven P+R locations (Park and Ride) spread across the city where visitors can park. The regular costs vary per location. At RAI it rises to 32 euros per day, at the Olympic Stadium it is 4 euros per hour, while at the Johan Cruijff Arena you have to pay 3 euros per hour.
At P+R locations, you can park your car cheaply on the outskirts of the city when you travel from there by public transport (public transport) to the center zone of Amsterdam. Otherwise you pay the more expensive standard parking fee, which differs per P+R location.
The prices of P+R locations have not been indexed for more than ten years and the municipality does not earn enough money to pay the fixed costs. In 2023, a loss of 1.6 million euros will be incurred and if this continues, it would increase to a loss of 4 million euros in 2025.
Traffic alderman Melanie van der Horst has therefore decided that visitors will have to pay 6 euros per day instead of 1 euro during off-peak times. Visitors who park during rush hours (before 10:00 am) go from 8 to 13 euros per day. The new prices will come into effect on 1 July this year.
It raises the question to what extent this fits in with the ambition of ‘car-free Amsterdam’. Parking on the outskirts of the city was conceived to reduce car traffic in the center and to allow visitors to travel further by public transport. But the increased prices seem to make parking less attractive. According to Van der Horst, however, this is not too bad: she refers to research that shows that customers find the new prices acceptable.
Currently, the reduced prices only apply to visitors traveling to the city center zone. For example, someone who parks in a P+R garage in Zeeburg and continues on to Zuidoost will have to pay the garage’s regular parking costs. At Zeeburg that is 2.50 euros per hour – which means that the costs for a day’s parking can rise considerably.
Van der Horst is going to change this, because the city wants visitors to not only travel to the center, but to spread out more across the city districts. Van der Horst also calls the current P+R system complex, and is not in line with how most other P+R locations in the Netherlands are arranged. The new system must be implemented by the end of the year.
There is a risk that the P+R garages will be used more often by commuters who park cheaply here to be close to their work. The alderman says he will take measures if this turns out to be the case.
The price increase is no coincidence. In the coalition agreement presented last year, it was already decided that the prices must be adjusted to keep the P+R cost neutral. Van der Horst says he will determine again in 2025 whether a new increase is appropriate, because P+R must also remain cost-neutral after that period.
While the P+R rates have not been adjusted since 2012, the street parking rates in Amsterdam have gone up. In 2019, this was increased to the historic 7.50 euros per hour in the city center. From 2024, parking must also be paid for in Nieuw-West and Zuidoost, while plans are being made in Noord to achieve this.
Update on Dujat & Members
This week, our delegation will depart to Japan for the first Dujat trip since the pandemic. We look very much forward to meeting everyone again! To give a better overview, we would like to inform you one more time that next to the receptions and company visits, 3 Dutch-Japanese seminars will take place in Tokyo next week, where members are very welcome to join.
All seminars are still accepting registrations, so feel free to register yourself or forward the information to your colleagues.
Netherlands Seminar – A sustainable gateway into Europe When: Wednesday 17 May, 15:00 – 17:00
Where: KPMG AZSA LLC 14F AZSA Center Building, 1-2 Tsukudo-cho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo Language: Japanese
Programme and registration: View PDF attachment
Legal and tax seminar on M&A investments into the Netherlands When: Friday 19 May, 10:30 – 13:00
Where: Nishimura & Asahi Tokyo Office Sunrise Hall (10F) Language: English
Programme and registration: (now closed)
AgriFood Seminar: Strengthening the Dutch and Japanese Agrifood sectors When: Friday 19 May, 13:30 – 17:00
Where: AgVenture Lab, 1-6-1 Otemachi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100-0004
Programme and registration: (now closed)
Thank you for reading our newsletter. If your company is member and has any news to share in our next newsletter, let us know by contacting our office.
Jinn van Gastel
Project Manager at Dujat
DUJAT (Dutch and Japanese Trade Federation)
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