Biweekly Update: News on Japan & the Netherlands – Week 31 & 32, 2021
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Update on Japan
On Monday 2 August, Japan expanded a COVID-19 state of emergency covering the capital and Okinawa to include Osaka and three prefectures near Tokyo due to a recent spike in coronavirus cases amid fears of a medical system collapse during the Olympics.
On Sunday, Tokyo confirmed 3,058 new coronavirus infections, while Kanagawa reported 1,258 cases, the third highest daily tally for the prefecture. Saitama and Chiba confirmed 899 and 767 new cases, respectively. Both figures are the second highest on record for these prefectures.
The state of emergency that has been in place in Tokyo and Okinawa was expanded to include the three prefectures and Osaka on Monday. Residents in these areas are urged to refrain from nonessential outings. Dining establishments are asked to close by 8 p.m. and not to sell alcohol.
Kanagawa Governor Kuroiwa Yuji said on Sunday that the number of new infections has been increasing despite the stricter anti-coronavirus measures that were already in place. He said that the surge in new cases reflects people’s unwillingness to fully observe the measures.
Kuroiwa warned of a possible collapse of the medical system, saying that if people call an ambulance, it may not come, and even if it does, there would not be any hospital to accept the patients.
Saitama Governor Ono Motohiro said his prefecture is facing a critical situation where hospitals are becoming overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients and that could take a toll on other patients. He stressed the need to step up support for medical institutions and public health centers.
The central government is also warning that the highly contagious Delta variant is creating more risks for the situation in Japan. Health minister Tamura Norihisa has urged the public to avoid high-risk behaviors, and called for their understanding and cooperation.
The government is offering free PCR tests to people flying from Tokyo and Osaka to Hokkaido, Okinawa, and Fukuoka in an effort to put the virus under control.
The COVID-19 situation among Tokyo Olympic athletes and staff has been “within expectations,” the CEO of the organizing committee said Sunday, insisting that there is no link between the games and surging infections in the Japanese capital and beyond.
“We are conducting more than 30,000 tests every day, quickly isolating any positive cases and taking appropriate steps to prevent the virus from spreading,” Muto Toshiro told a press briefing.
“Having gone into these Olympics promising a safe and secure games for all participants, Tokyo residents and the Japanese people, I think we have been able to deal with COVID-19 at a level within expectations so far.”
Muto’s comments came as infections in Japan sharply rise, with the nationwide tally of daily cases hitting a record high for the fourth straight day at 12,342 on Saturday, of which Tokyo accounts for about one third.
Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide has said the surge is not related to the Olympics, which are being held without spectators at almost all venues, while Tokyo Gov. Koike Yuriko has said high TV ratings suggest people are heeding calls to stay home.
“We have the exact same thinking,” Muto said, referring to the remarks by the two leaders.
The organizing committee on Sunday reported 18 more COVID-19 cases related to the games, one of them an athlete from overseas, bringing the cumulative total since the beginning of July to 259.
Regarding incidents of participants being punished for violating the “playbook”, which is a set of rules for athletes, staff and media members, Muto confirmed that so far six people have had their accreditation revoked for egregious offenses.
Athletes at the games are allowed to drink in their accommodations but not in public spaces. Muto said the organizing committee is looking into the incident and will “act appropriately.”
As Japan’s impressive medal haul grows, sales of official Tokyo Olympics merchandise such as badges and keyrings have been surging, with fans queuing outside stores to buy them despite mounting COVID-19 infections.
While public skepticism about holding the games during a pandemic was strong when they officially opened a week ago, many people in Japan appear keen to get hold of souvenirs of what is likely to be a once-in-a-lifetime event — especially as the country has so far stayed near to or at the top of the gold medal count.
The official online store, which sells goods ranging from apparel to Japanese traditional crafts, even became temporarily inaccessible due to a traffic surge.
An official shop in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district was stocked with some 1,700 items in all, but popular goods such as pin badges and mugs quickly sold out after the games got under way. The store, which requires visitors to undergo temperature checks and sanitize their hands, was packed recently with customers bumping shoulders in order to purchase Olympic items.
During the weekend, there was even a long line outside the outlet, despite the Japanese capital being under a COVID-19 state of emergency since 12 July.
Before the opening of the Olympics, opinion polls showed high levels of public unease about hosting the games, even mostly behind closed doors, as Tokyo battled a resurgence of infections.
But as Japan’s gold medal count increased and TV programming became dominated by Olympic competitions, the snapping up of merchandise could indicate a softening of sentiment in Tokyo and elsewhere.
In Sapporo, on Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido where the marathon and race walk events will take place over the final four days of the Olympics, an official outlet did not see many customers when it first opened in May, but the number picked up in time for the start of the 17-day games.
A store in the western Japan city of Osaka said it saw fewer than 10 customers per day about a month ago, but the number jumped nearly 10 times after the Olympics began.
According to the Osaka store, keyrings with pictograms of the Olympic sports such as basketball and judo are among the most popular goods, as performers in navy and white costumes forming poses to match the pictograms during the opening ceremony garnered global attention.
Officials in Japan want businesses to be more transparent about how climate change could threaten their operations or earnings.
The Financial Services Agency says it will set up a panel of experts to look at various ideas in the coming months, including new regulations compelling firms to state the risks on their financial statements. Some firms already volunteer details of climate threats that could affect investment decisions.
But not all business leaders in Japan want it to become mandatory. Some say it would be a heavy burden on companies.
Western countries have been leading the push for such disclosures. An international framework called the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures has been promoting the idea and laying out recommendations.
Japan pitches ‘Society 5.0’ to showcase its latest scientific achievements, ranging from sea and air to space, as the government aims to boost and propagate cutting-edge technologies despite the country’s decline in international competitiveness in such fields.
The Cabinet Office is co-hosting an event dedicated to ‘Society 5.0,’ a future society the government believes Japan should aspire to. At the capital’s iconic 634-meter Tokyo Skytree, over 200 items are being exhibited as examples of Japan-born innovation — mostly publicly funded — and what the world could look like in 2030, after the government initiated this fiscal year a new five-year basic plan for science, technology and innovation. Tokyo Skytree was recognized by Guinness World Records in 2011 as the world’s tallest tower, according to its operator’s website.
The main exhibitions began 15 July and will run through 28 July, with the overall event continuing until 5 September. Organizers had hoped to attract international visitors, but with the Tokyo Olympics closed to overseas spectators, “we want them to enjoy virtual exhibitions,” a Cabinet Office official said.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency is exhibiting the reentry capsule of the asteroid probe Hayabusa2. Launched in December 2014, it returned and dropped a capsule to Earth containing two samples from the 4.6-billion-year-old Ryugu asteroid in December 2020. JAXA is now conducting research into the origin of life on Earth and the evolution of the solar system.
A full-scale model of the deep-sea research vehicle Shinkai 6500, developed by the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, is also being displayed at the venue. A manned submersible that can dive 6,500 meters, deeper than any other vehicle of its kind, Shinkai 6500 has been deployed since 1991 to study seafloor topography and geology in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans as well as the seas around Japan.
Defined by the Cabinet Office as “a human-centered society [helped] by a system that highly integrates cyberspace and physical space,” Society 5.0 is a concept intended to broaden the discussion of innovation from science and technology to all of socioeconomic activity.
The government has also established multiple large-scale programs to encourage companies, involved in everything from health care and mobility to energy, to invest in research and development, not only at the level of pure technology but also to bring it to a pilot level.
The exhibition includes some achievements from these programs, including Cyberdyne’s HAL, standing for “hybrid assistive limb,” which the company claims to be the world’s first “wearable cyborg.” A HAL exoskeleton autonomously walks on a treadmill at the venue.
When worn on a leg, HAL can read faint signals sent to muscles from the brain thanks to electrodes attached to the wearer’s skin, determining the wearer’s desired movements. “Even if your nerves are not connected at first, they gradually recover through the wearing of HAL, and you can eventually move your own body parts without wearing it,” said a person from Cyberdyne.
SkyDrive’s “flying car” also attracts the attention of visitors, who can observe a full-scale model of the SD-03, which performed the first successful public manned flights of a flying car in Japan in August 2020. Co-founded by former Toyota Motor engineer Tomohiro Fukuzawa, the startup plans to offer commercial mobility service during Expo 2025, to be held in Osaka.
“It is as if we are traveling to the future,” said Shinji Inoue, a minister of state who heads science and technology policy, when he visited the exhibition last week. Asked by reporters how to make these cutting-edge tools an everyday reality, Inoue spoke of a need to deregulate the market when it comes to obtaining operating permits for such items.
Indeed, the government acknowledges challenges in keeping up with the country’s capabilities in implementing scientific progress. Digitalization initiatives, the premise for achieving Society 5.0, “could not sufficiently create new business models through data collaboration, like what we see in other countries,” said a report from the Cabinet Office analyzing the previous five-year plan through fiscal 2020. Instead, the initiatives aimed at improving the efficiency of existing operations, failing to drive innovation.
In terms of research capabilities, “the international status of both the quantity and quality of papers continues to decline,” said the report, although Japan has seen many Nobel Prize winners. Japan’s share of international science publishing has been declining in the past years; Japan now ranks ninth in the world in the number of frequently cited “high-quality” papers — so-called top 1% most highly cited papers — whereas in the 1990s it ranked fourth.
Skillful young people tend to hesitate on pursuing doctoral programs in science, partly due to unstable employment prospects for young researchers, the report added.
A total budget of over 26 trillion yen ($235 billion) was allocated to science under the previous five-year plan. The government has increased the amount to 30 trillion yen for the latest plan, as it seeks to catch up with the U.S., as well as China and other Asian rivals.
Update on the Netherlands
Steady decline in infection figures continues: 2136 new corona infections were reported to RIVM until 10:00, the morning og Tuesday 2 August. That is 192 less than yesterday and almost half less than last Monday.
On average, the number of positive corona tests is falling: an average of 3252 positive tests per day were registered in the past seven days. That is 43% less than the seven days before.
Where the Netherlands was one of the European countries with the most infections in terms of population earlier this month, it is now rapidly falling in that ranking. At the moment, Spain is one of the most affected countries, although the figures there too are now slowly declining.
Regarding vaccinations, from this week it is also possible for everyone aged eighteen and older to move up already planned appointments for their second injection by a week, outgoing minister Hugo de Jonge (Public Health) said on Monday. It concerns appointments on and after Monday 16 August.
According to the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport (VWS), there are sufficient vaccines in stock. There is also sufficient puncture capacity at the GGD to implement this acceleration.
If you already have a second vaccination appointment, you will receive a text message from the GGD. After receiving this SMS, the National Vaccination Appointment Number can be called to advance the second vaccination by telephone.
De Jonge has taken the decision to achieve the highest possible vaccination coverage in the Netherlands as soon as possible. “Because vaccination works,” said the minister. “You do that not only to protect your own health, but also the people around you: your family and friends.”
According to De Jonge, vaccination brings freedom. “Of course nobody wants to go back to all the limitations that we have fortunately been able to leave behind for the most part.”
Earlier, outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte also announced that people who have received the Janssen vaccine from 14 August can only receive a vaccination certificate for domestic use four weeks, instead of two, after the injection. The OMT advised this because good protection against a mild virus course occurs after two weeks, but the protection against serious infection increases even further in the following days, according to the new advice.
On 23 July, King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima wished all Dutch Olympic athletes good luck during the Olympic Games in Tokyo and officially opened the Olympic Festival in The Hague. Due to the corona pandemic, the king will miss the sporting event for the first time in years.
The opening of the festival was organized in Japanese style with Japanese ladies in kimono, and the ambassador of Japan H.E. Mr. Horinouchi also attended and held a speech.
Regarding the prestations, the Netherlands is doing well and is on track to surpass the record number of medals from the Olympic Games in Sydney, NOS reported on Monday 2 August, and also has a remarkable presence in the Top 10 of gold medals, placing 9th as of Tuesday 3 August (watch full updated overview here on the TeamNL website).
Small one-day outdoor festivals, for a maximum of 750 visitors without a fixed seat, will be possible again from 14 August under “strict conditions”.
That is what the outgoing cabinet decided on Monday 2 August. Larger events without an overnight stay are not allowed yet. The festivals must be outdoors or in a tent that is open on four sides. Visitors must be vaccinated or have a negative test result that is not older than 24 hours. Visitors who can prove that they had corona in the past six months are also allowed to enter.
Another decision, about festivals with more than 750 visitors, may be made next week as we near the press conference on 13 August. It is not certain whether they can still continue. Festivals that are canceled can use the corona guarantee fund.
Event organizer ID&T, among others, thinks 13 August is too late. This would leave too little preparation time for festivals, such as Dance Valley, that are scheduled for that weekend.
The company therefore initiated summary proceedings against the cabinet together with more than forty other festival organizers. That has been put on hold for the time being.
The cabinet has requested advice from the experts of the Outbreak Management Team (OMT), which currently only considers it responsible to make a decision about small events.
One-day festivals with fixed seats for the visitors can already be held. At the beginning of last week, the outgoing cabinet put an end to multi-day festivals with overnight stays. They are not allowed to continue until 1 September.
Consumers will pay more for their daily groceries. Het Financieele Dagblad writes that producers such as Unilever and Procter & Gamble are confronted with such high cost increases that they will pass them on to the supermarkets, which will not have a choice in the long run, analysts say: a part will ultimately be passed on to the consumer.
The higher costs are due to price increases of all kinds of raw materials. For example, grains, oils and sugar are all more expensive than last year. Due to the end of lockdowns, there is much more demand. Corona has disrupted a lot at the same time, leaving the supply behind. A United Nations index that tracks food prices was 40% higher in May than a year ago.
Palm oil was even 70% more expensive in the past six months, said Unilever CEO Alan Jope yesterday at the presentation of the half-year figures. Palm oil is found in a wide range of products, such as peanut butter and shampoo. The prices of packaging and transport with containers have also risen.
It will take some time before price increases are passed on all the way to the consumer, says analyst Thijs Geijer, who monitors the food market for ING. “There are several links in the food chain between the moment a raw material is traded on the world market and the moment a product is on the shelf.”
Each link separately checks whether higher costs are passed on and then has to negotiate this with the next link. Prices are often also fixed in contracts. They have to end first. “But we do expect that this will lead to higher prices in the store,” says Geijer.
Supermarkets such as Jumbo and Vomar tell the newspaper that they see the higher costs, but are not yet implementing price increases. Sligro, which mainly supplies the catering industry, expects to do this in the short term.
But there are other less visible ways to cope with higher costs. For example, producers can use cheaper ingredients or pack less. “That is difficult with a 1.5 liter bottle of cola,” says Geijer, “but for other products, such as cookies for example, you can vary the number of cookies in a package.”
According to the analyst, it is also quite conceivable that higher costs for one product are passed on to other products. “An average supermarket has 20,000 items on the shelf, so you can spread it out and it doesn’t just have to be expressed with certain products.”
Products that consumers buy less often, and for which they therefore have less of a price in mind, come into the picture. The supermarkets often look at each other for frequently purchased products such as bread, eggs and bananas. They do not want these to be more expensive than others, and customers are more aware of the price with these products, says the analyst.
Update on Dujat & Members
We welcome everyone to sign up for our intercultural workshop, which will take place on Tueday 17 August at Amity International School Amsterdam. Invitations were sent last month. Feel free to sign up on our Event Site using your e-mail address – all members on our mailinglist should be able to register, if you experience any problems, please contact email@example.com.
Together with AKD, we are pleased to welcome you to our Mandatory Disclosure (DAC6) Seminar. This seminar will be held in The Edge in Amsterdam on Tuesday, 31 August.
The OECD Action Plan on Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) triggered new obligations for tax payers, requiring them to disclose certain tax/legal arrangements. This has resulted in the DAC6 regulations.
In this seminar, we will update the participants not only on the main provisions of DAC6, but also address the most common misconceptions about DAC6 and explain why virtually all companies are likely to be impacted by these rules, one way or another. Registration is possible on our event site, please be aware seats are limited due to COVID-19 restrictions.
If your company has any news to share in the next biweekly newsletter, let us know by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jinn van Gastel
Project Manager at Dujat
DUJAT (Dutch and Japanese Trade Federation)
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