Biweekly Update: News on Japan & the Netherlands – Week 25 & 26, 2021
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Update on Japan
The coronavirus state of emergency in Japan was lifted at the end of the day on Sunday for Tokyo and eight other prefectures.
It will remain in effect in Okinawa until 11 July. Tokyo, Osaka and five other prefectures will transition to focused restrictions from Monday.
Tokyo confirmed 376 new cases on Sunday. That’s up 72 from a week earlier. The seven-day average through Sunday is 388, up 1% from the week before. The minister in charge of the coronavirus response says with an eye on the upcoming Tokyo Games, the government is ready to declare another state of emergency, if needed.
Nishimura said, “A rise in cases is highly likely as more people start moving around. We will not hesitate to declare another state of emergency, if necessary, to protect people’s lives, while keeping an eye on the healthcare system.”
Workplace vaccinations went into full-swing on Monday. An electronics store held a practice session to get ready. Iwami Shinichiro of Bic Camera said, “We want to give our employees peace of mind, so our customers can come and shop with peace of mind.” The company aims to vaccinate 1,200 people a day and cover all of its 17,000 employees and their families.
The minister in charge of the roll-out, Kono Taro, hopes elementary and junior high school students will be able to get their shots during their summer break. He says there will be an announcement soon on vaccinating schoolchildren.
Kono Taro himself was vaccinated on Monday in a building that used to house the education ministry in Tokyo’s Kasumigaseki district. More than 10,000 officials are expected to be inoculated there. Many are in charge of crisis management and disaster preparedness.
Japan’s state-run mass COVID-19 inoculation centers started administering vaccine to people aged 18 or older Thursday, extending vaccinations beyond those aged 65 or over as many slots at the centers remain vacant.
The move came two days after the Defense Ministry, which runs the large-scale centers in Tokyo and Osaka, decided to remove age restrictions so as not to waste vaccine at the facilities where slots remained largely vacant for the period through 27 June.
As of 10 a.m. Thursday, around 90% of the 70,000 slots at the Tokyo center between next Monday and 27 June were filled. At the Osaka center, however, around 20,000 of the 35,000 slots for the same period were still unfilled.
The centers, which can inoculate up to 10,000 people per day in Tokyo and 5,000 in Osaka, administer U.S. pharmaceutical company Moderna Inc’s two-dose vaccine, which is recommended for people aged 18 or older.
A vaccination coupon sent by a local municipality is required to make a reservation via the Defense Ministry’s website, the Line messaging app service or a phone call.
The centers were set up last month to accelerate Japan’s vaccine rollout by supplementing the efforts of local municipalities. The country’s vaccination rate lags far behind other developed countries. The centers initially targeted people aged 65 or older living in seven prefectures in the Tokyo metropolitan and Kansai areas but the scope was later expanded to accept younger people nationwide.
Slots from 28 June onward, however, are mostly reserved for elderly people to receive second doses of the vaccine, with hardly any slots available for new reservations.
Meanwhile, Kono Taro, the minister in charge of the country’s vaccination efforts, said Thursday the government may achieve this week its target of administering 1 million shots per day. He made the comments in an online meeting with Mimura Akio, chairman of the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Olympic organizers on Monday decided on a spectator limit of 10,000, or up to 50% of capacity, per venue for domestic fans at the Games that open in just over a month.
The decision came after the government lifted the state of emergency in Tokyo and other prefectures on Sunday. Although a quasi-state of emergency will be in place in Tokyo, the spectator limit at large events is expected to lifted to 10,000 after the restriction is lifted on 11 July. Currently, the upper limit is at 50% of capacity or 5,000 people.
Tokyo 2020 President Hashimoto Seiko told reporters that organizers will hold a meeting to consider steps such as banning spectators if there is any rapid increase in infections and the medical system comes under strain.
Currently, 3.64 million tickets have been sold. Organizers are aiming to cut the number to 2.72 million through a lottery, for which details will be unveiled later this week. “We will reduce the number of spectators in a fair manner,” Tokyo 2020 CEO Muto Toshiro said.
Due to the spectator limit, ticket revenue will be “less than half” of what had originally been expected, Muto added. He said Tokyo Metropolitan Government, the national government and Tokyo 2020 would discuss how to make up for the loss.
At all venues, those involved with the Games such as sponsors and officials of international sports federations will not be included in the numbers to be cut. “They are not spectators but they are one of the organizers,” Muto said.
The opening ceremony will be attended by fewer than 20,000 people including spectators and those stakeholders.
Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide told reporters on Monday that if a new state of emergency is declared during the games, it is possible they will be held behind closed doors. Tokyo Governor Koike Yuriko said before the meeting: “If there should be a major dramatic change in the infection situation, we need to revisit this among ourselves, and we may need to consider the option of having no spectators in the venues.”
Organizers have waited until the last minute to decide on domestic spectators as “it has been difficult to judge the situation” as the infection status is changing all the time, Tokyo 2020 president Hashimoto Seiko told reporters last week.
Omi Shigeru, the government’s top medical adviser on COVID-19, proposed to organizers on Friday that holding the Olympics behind closed doors is “desirable” to tame infection risks, claiming it was the least risky way to hold the games.
The remote meeting on Monday was attended by the Tokyo and national governments, Tokyo 2020, and the International Olympic and Paralympic Committee.
At the meeting, IOC president Thomas Bach said that “well above 80%” of athletes who will stay at the Olympic Village will be vaccinated, and “much closer to the 80%” of foreign journalists are expected to be vaccinated.
Japanese energy company Eneos and plant engineer Chiyoda will build a facility that manufactures hydrogen without carbon dioxide emissions at one-third the current cost, a breakthrough in the nation’s push toward decarbonization.
The plant will use a proprietary electrolysis technology to significantly lower necessary investment, with the aim of bringing down the price of hydrogen to 330 yen, or roughly €2,50, per kilogram. Eneos and Chiyoda are looking at Australia and other locations as candidates to build the plant in 2030.
Hydrogen, which can power automobiles or power plants without generating CO2, is seen by some as vital to decarbonization efforts, but production costs have remained high. Hydrogen costs roughly 1,100 yen per kilogram in the Japanese market, and the government seeks to bring down the figure to 330 yen by 2030 and eventually to 220 yen.
The method developed by Eneos and Chiyoda electrolyzes both water and toluene at the same, instead of through separate processes, to create methylcyclohexane, or MCH. This simplification of the process slashes facility investment by half.
Liquid MCH will be shipped at ambient temperatures to power plants and other facilities, where hydrogen is extracted for energy use. This is far more cost-effective than shipping hydrogen, which involves keeping it at minus 253 C in a special shipping vessel.
The partners already have the technology to produce limited quantities of MCH and will now work on boosting capacity by using bigger electrodes to develop 500kw equipment by fiscal 2025.
Power needed for electrolysis will be supplied from renewable energy sources. Australia provides such energy at low costs. Installing electrolysis equipment and a storage tank requires roughly 1 sq. kilometer of land, bringing the total investment to about 400 billion yen. If a solar energy farm is to be built along side, a 64 sq. kilometer lot will be necessary.
The Japanese government has set a goal of using up to 3 million tons of hydrogen as an energy source by 2030. Of that amount, green hydrogen is slated to account for 420,000 tons. A plant by Eneos and Chiyoda is expected to have an annual production capacity of 300,000 tons, which would be roughly equivalent in output to a nuclear reactor.
Update on the Netherlands
The Netherlands will drop almost all corona restrictions from Saturday 26 June. Only where the 1.5 meters cannot be guaranteed, measures will still apply from that date.
The outgoing cabinet announced this at a press conference on Friday evening, announcing a falling infection and hospital figures, and a good progress of the vaccination process. From Saturday, people born in 2003 can also make an appointment for vaccination, said outgoing minister Hugo de Jonge (Public Health). It is the last year of birth that can now make an appointment.
“It is a moment to celebrate,” said de Jonge. He hopes that by the second half of August everyone who wants to will be fully vaccinated.
Thanks to these improvements, the cabinet has decided to take step four of the opening plan and even increase it. One of the relaxations is that face masks are no longer mandatory in most places. Only in places where the 1.5 meters cannot be guaranteed, such as in public transport, secondary education or at events or festivals, the face mask obligation continues to apply.
In public locations, such as the catering industry, everything is allowed again with regular opening hours, provided that the 1.5 meters are observed and tables and chairs – for example in a restaurant – are far enough apart. The registration and the check conversation also remain mandatory.
In addition to working from home, employees are allowed to spend half their time in the office. The cabinet calls on people to travel outside peak hours as much as possible. The 1.5 meter rule remains in force at the office, so also in the canteen and in the elevator.
There will be no maximum number of visitors at home from 26 June. The rules also expire for group formation outside, such as in the park or on the street. Finally, the ban on the sale of alcohol after 22:00 will also expire, as will the ban on consuming it after 22:00 in public spaces.
The cabinet emphasizes that in addition to the 1.5 meters, the other basic rules, such as washing hands, sneezing and coughing in the elbow etc. will still apply. It may be possible to see on 13 August how and when the last step of the opening plan, in which the basic rules are also released, can be taken.
The cabinet announced on Friday that travelers who travel abroad from the Netherlands in July or August may be tested for free.
The free tests are intended for travelers who have not yet been (fully) vaccinated and who need to be tested before their trip abroad this summer. From this week, it will become clearer through the channels of the government where and how travelers can get a free test for their trip and how they can prepare for their trip with it.
If the travel industry has a test taken for a trip in July and August, this will be reimbursed. This also applies to the tests that have already been paid for when booking a trip in these months.
In addition, travelers can get a free test from a contracted party. Finally, the test capacity of a number of GGDs, approximately 35,000 tests per day, will also be used. Test locations are being deployed throughout the Netherlands for this purpose.
Travelers will receive the test result for a NAAT (PCR) test within a maximum of 24 hours after the test is taken. For the antigen test, the test result must be available no more than three hours after the test has been taken.
Travelers must then download the test result in the CoronaCheck app, which serves as proof at the border, on board the plane, train, bus or boat. It is also possible to travel with paper proofs.
The government estimates that a maximum of 3.5 million tests will be needed in July and August. The costs are estimated at 250 million euros.
In the coming years, the new Dutch government must contribute about 20 billion euros to large-scale housing and infrastructure projects in fourteen areas.
Without that contribution from the government, according to outgoing minister Ollongren, construction will be “insufficient and at a slower pace” than planned. The built homes will also become less affordable, she warns in a letter to parliament. The next cabinet must decide on the investments.
Ollongren bases her letter on an investigation that she had carried out by a consultancy. This concerns more than 440,000 homes in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Utrecht, Groningen, Eindhoven and Zwolle, among others. Almost half must be built before 2030.
The government should also help with major infrastructure projects such as extending the Amsterdam North/South line to Schiphol, the so-called IJmeer connection between Almere and Amsterdam and a new train station in Groningen.
The fourteen projects that have been examined are “all complex, large-scale area developments, mostly inner-city, some extra-urban”, writes Ollongren. Most of the costs (109 out of 142 billion euros) are covered by private lenders. Research previously showed that provinces and municipalities lack approximately 13.7 billion euros to build enough in the coming years.
There is now a housing shortage of about 300,000, concluded research agency ABF Research in February, which has been monitoring this shortage for years on behalf of the government. Last year, a report from the Ministry of the Interior showed that 845,000 new homes will have to be built over the next ten years to prevent the housing shortage from increasing further.
On Tuesday, Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) also reported that house prices in the Netherlands rose by 12.9% in May. That is the strongest increase since April 2001. House prices have risen sharply in recent months.
It has already become clear in recent months that the corona crisis has not led to the expected crash in house prices, but has caused just the opposite. Since the start of the corona crisis, houses in the Netherlands have only become more expensive.
The prospects for the Dutch economy are favorable and the permanent damage from the corona crisis remains limited. That is what the Central Planning Bureau (CPB) writes in its latest estimate.
The growth rate of the Dutch economy has been further adjusted upwards for this year. The economists of the CPB still assumed 2.2% growth in March, now it is 3.2%. “Despite the corona pandemic, the Dutch economy is in relatively good shape,” says CPB director Pieter Hasekamp. “The support policy has worked well to dampen the effects on the labor market and production and to prevent major permanent damage.”
Earlier, there were fears of rising unemployment due to the corona crisis. That fear has disappeared among economists. Now the CPB even assumes a decrease in unemployment in 2021. Unemployment will rise next year, to 4.1% of the working population. That is the average level of unemployment in the years before the crisis.
The Central Bureau of Statistics announced this morning that consumer spending rose by 9.4% in April. That is the highest increase since World War II when the measurements started. This growth figure fits in with the picture that the Central Planning Bureau is painting for the rest of the year. Consumers spend more after spending less during the corona crisis.
Economic growth could be even higher, economists write. Last year 42 billion euros were saved during the corona crisis. If consumers start spending those savings in the near future, the recovery will be stronger. At the same time, growth could be disappointing if the pandemic picks up again later this year.
The estimates of the Central Planning Bureau are important for the cabinet when making decisions about whether more or less money can be spent. The CPB figures show that there is a budget deficit of 5.9% this year and 1.5% next year, provided the corona support has been phased out by then.
Although the deficit is declining, the economists believe that the new cabinet should not be too exuberant with new expenditure. They point to the uncertainty surrounding the economic recovery in the coming years. On the other hand, the CPB does not consider it necessary to make additional cutbacks.
Two weeks ago, De Nederlandsche Bank said it expected the Dutch economy to recover strongly and smoothly from the historically severe contraction from now on.
Update on Dujat & Members
On Thursday we will go live with our virtual event on 5G, AI & Cyber Security with HTCE, 5G Hub and Soliton Systems. A small group will also be welcomed at the High Tech Campus in Eindhoven.
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Jinn van Gastel
Project Manager at Dujat
DUJAT (Dutch and Japanese Trade Federation)
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