Biweekly Update: News on Japan & the Netherlands – Week 33 & 34, 2022
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Update on Japan
The Japanese government is considering further easing coronavirus measures for arrivals from overseas, starting next month.
Prime Minister Kishida Fumio said on Monday that his government will lay out new policies as soon as possible to modify its strict anti-infection measures.
Government officials are considering raising the daily ceiling of arrivals to Japan from the current 20,000, from September. Some have proposed 50,000 as a new cap.
They are also thinking about easing virus testing requirements. Currently, all arrivals, including Japanese nationals, are required to take coronavirus tests within 72 hours before departure, and submit negative test proof. But from next month, those who’ve received booster shots could be exempt from the test requirement.
The government is also planning to review the current nationwide coronavirus case reporting system to ease burdens on healthcare workers. The idea is to ask hospitals and public health centers to report only case numbers for people with a low risk of developing serious symptoms. For high risk groups, such as the elderly and those with underlying conditions, healthcare workers would continue to report details, including symptoms.
Shortening the self-isolating period for patients with symptoms from the current 10 days to seven is also under consideration.
The Japanese government has also decided to allow tourists to enter the country without joining a guided tour, if their visit has been arranged through a travel agency. The agencies that arrange tours are expected to manage their clients’ schedules. Tourists will also be asked to follow guidelines if cases of infection are confirmed.
But the government will continue to deny entry to individual travelers who don’t make arrangements through travel agencies. The new measure is expected to go into effect in September.
Japanese trading house Itochu in 2024 will start opening year-round hydrogen stations, Nikkei has learned, a step that will be crucial if hydrogen-powered vehicles are to become conducive to long drives in Japan.
Itochu will undertake the project with French gas supplier Air Liquide. The first 365-day hydrogen station will be in Fukushima, to be followed by other locations along major highways.
The companies expect long-haul truckers and bus drivers operating along regular routes to be their main customers. Bus and truck fleet operators have been yearning to adopt hydrogen fuel cell vehicles but have been reticent due to the lack of hydrogen stations that are open 365 days a year.
Japan’s government has set a goal of opening 1,000 hydrogen stations by 2030. So far, only 160 or so exist due to the small number of FCVs and the high cost of building the stations.
Itochu and Air Liquide aim to lower the construction cost by taking advantage of government subsidies and locating the stations next to Itochu-affiliated gas stations, which will allow some facilities to be shared.
There are more than 700 hydrogen stations around the world, of which 185 have been developed by Air Liquide. The French company has managed to bring the cost of building a hydrogen station down to about half of the cost in Japan. Air Liquide and Itochu formed a partnership in 2021 to develop hydrogen distribution infrastructure.
None of Japan’s current hydrogen stations operate year-round because each typically has only one pressure-boosting device, which needs to be shut down for one or two weeks every year so it can be inspected. The devices increase the pressure of hydrogen before the chemical element is loaded into an FCV.
To stay open every day, stations need at least two pressure-boosting devices, which cost as much as 500 million yen ($3.6 million). Itochu and Air Liquide say they have lowered the cost of the devices to a level where a station can install two devices without sacrificing the bottom line.
Japan’s education ministry is setting up a fund worth billions of dollars to nurture young talent in digital technology, decarbonization and other high-growth technical fields.
The ministry will give the money to universities and technical colleges that teach science and engineering. The decision comes amid concerns that Japan trails other countries in educational investments in advanced technical fields.
The ministry aims to provide financial support lasting several years to institutions if they restructure their departments to better focus on fields expected to grow in the future. The funds would cover initial costs and operational expenses for a certain period.
Ministry officials plan to earmark more than 70 million dollars in their draft budget for the next fiscal year that starts in April 2023.
They are also considering measures to accelerate the digitalization of society as a whole. Some ideas include allowing national universities to temporarily lift their enrollment caps in information-technology departments.
The ministry is also looking to work with educational institutions and the business community to recruit specialists in the private sector to work as instructors.
Japanese car manufacturers are introducing new features to their vehicles to fit lifestyles changed by the pandemic.
Suzuki has developed a light car that can be used as a remote working space. The rear seat transforms into a computer workstation with a wide desktop.
The carmaker says the new vehicle will also come in handy for enjoying outdoor life, as the desktop can become a shelf for storing cargo such as camping equipment.
Toyota Motor has launched a new minivan which the company says makes it easier to carry a pet on board.
With more people buying pets during the pandemic, the carmaker says the new model has a wider space between the front and rear seats, making it easier for pets to get in and out. It also has more luggage space.
Nissan is also working with an office furniture maker to develop a new type of car to better accommodate remote work.
Update on the Netherlands
The NS will allow trains to run again in most of the country on Wednesday. Only in the south and east of the country there are no trains due to staff strikes.
The news follows the decision of the NS not to run trains in almost the entire country on Tuesday, because there is a strike in the Utrecht region, which has consequences for almost the entire country.
Wednesday’s strikes affect a large part of the south and east of the Netherlands. The NS does allow trains to depart on Wednesday from the stations Rotterdam Central, Dordrecht, Utrecht Central, Geldermalsen, Ede-Wageningen, Amersfoort and Zwolle.
The transport company also points out that on Wednesday travelers may still be inconvenienced by the fact that trains run almost nowhere in the country on Tuesday.
“It is possible that not all trains are in the right place yet. That means that travelers have to take into account longer travel times and more frequent transfers,” the NS says about transport on Wednesday.
It is not yet clear which international trains will and will not run. NS will announce more about this later on Tuesday.
NS staff has been on strike for several working days for a better collective labor agreement. The NS wants to raise wages, but not as much as employees and unions want. With last and this week’s strikes, they want to reinforce their demands.
Wednesday is the last day on which work will be laid down for the time being, although it cannot be ruled out that unions later decide to strike again if they do not reach an agreement with the NS.
This week on Saturday, the municipality of Amsterdam will provide 3,000 extra parking spaces at the RAI for visitors to the ArenA area. The concert halls also open half an hour later. The measures were introduced because the NS does not stop at Bijlmer Arena station for part of the day, while tens of thousands of people go there that day.
The NS announced last Thursday that the trains will not stop at some Amsterdam stations on 3 September between 2.15 pm and 8.30 pm. The trains do not have enough capacity to transport Formula 1 fans from Zandvoort and at the same time take football supporters and concert-goers to and from Bijlmer Arena station.
High crowds are expected in the area on Saturday because Ajax will play against SC Cambuur that day in the Johan Cruijff ArenA. A spokesperson for the municipality tells NU.nl that 42,500 people are expected there, who will leave the stadium again at 6.15 pm.
In addition, there are sold-out concerts in the Ziggo Dome (Kensington) and AFAS Live (Yade Lauren). The concert halls receive more than 20,500 visitors on Saturday evening. They open half an hour later so that the flow of people does not overlap too much with the football supporters.
For motorists who have to go to the ArenA area in Amsterdam on Saturday, 3,000 extra parking spaces will be arranged at the RAI. From there, people can take the metro to the football stadium, the Ziggo Dome or AFAS Live. There are already approximately 8,500 parking spaces in the ArenA area itself.
The Amsterdam transport company GVB will deploy three extra metros on Saturday to bring people to and from the ArenA area.
Rescheduling the football game turned out to be impossible. The NS has announced that it cannot guarantee the safety of travelers at Amsterdam Bijlmer ArenA station as a result. The transport company also said last week that it cannot deploy additional equipment.
After the Central Netherlands, the Northern Netherlands will also go back to school from today. A five-day week of classes is not self-evident everywhere, as the teacher shortage has now spread across the country. “There are no more schools that have teachers left,” chairman Thijs Roovers of the General Education Association (AOb) told NU.nl.
The five largest cities in the Netherlands (G5) have been struggling with a teacher shortage for some time, just like surrounding places such as Amstelveen and Zaanstad. But now even northern Groningen is burdened by the search for new people. “And that’s new,” says Roovers. “The teacher shortage will manifest itself outside the Randstad.”
There is a national shortage of 9,100 full-time teachers. However, many teachers work part-time, which means that, according to a calculation by the AOb, in reality 12,467 people are needed to supplement the staff.
In addition to the AOb, the educational umbrella organization PO Council now sees that it is becoming a problem for the whole country. “Everywhere is pushing and pulling,” says the spokesman.
There are no exact and recent statistics per region. However, there are figures from the autumn of 2021 from research agency CenterData, which give a global impression. Commissioned by the Ministry of Education, the agency surveyed the extent of the teacher shortages. Outside the G5 (where participation was compulsory), 55% of the schools completed a questionnaire. Outside the major cities, the teacher shortage is greatest in the south of North Holland and the south of South Holland. Eastern Netherlands still had the smallest shortages.
The lack of manpower leads to special constructions, such as the four-day school week. In The Hague, for example, some children receive a home program on the fifth day. “Then something will be set up online for children to enjoy at home,” says Roovers. “Of course that’s not education.”
The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW) already allows schools in the five largest cities to organize something different one day a week. For example, lessons from people without a teaching qualification who are good in another subject. As a result, a school needs 20% fewer qualified teachers, education ministers Dennis Wiersma and Robbert Dijkgraaf write in a letter to parliament .
Classes are also being merged, so that one less teacher is needed. The teacher with an extra large group gets help from a class assistant. “That also comes at the expense of the quality of education,” says Roovers.
Still, the AOb director does not think it will change much in the coming years. “The teacher shortage will only reach its peak in 2028. Until then, we will have to make do with these kinds of emergency solutions.”
The government is taking different paths to combat the teacher shortage. For example, teachers should be deployed where there is the greatest shortage, “so that scarcity is better distributed”, says the same letter to parliament from July.
The ministry also sees the possibility of merging small schools, so that fewer staff are needed. This intervention would particularly work for “larger school boards in urban areas”.
Furthermore, teachers in primary education earn as much as their colleagues in secondary education since this summer. But due to inflation and wages in the commercial sector, the salary is still not very attractive, says Roovers.
In addition, the ministry is focusing on side entrants. The number of people who switched jobs to education has grown in recent years from almost five hundred in 2017 to two thousand in 2021, the letter to parliament states. Now there will be even more subsidy for schools that accept a lateral entrant.
About a quarter of young teachers quit their profession within five years. “The teacher leak”, Roovers calls it. One of the reasons for this would be that there is no time for proper supervision of the novice teachers.
It is a selection of what it says is “unorthodox measures” with which the ministry wants to combat the teacher shortage, together with educational organisations, staff, employers and trainers.
“The great shortage of teachers is the Achilles heel of education,” Minister Wiersma wrote to the House in July. “Letting this drag on is irresponsible.” Roovers sees that the minister is “busy”, but also says: “There is not really a plan yet.”
Dutch households used 16% less gas in the first six months of this year than the year before. Industry also used less natural gas. This is according to figures from Statistics Netherlands. The cause is the warmer weather and the high gas price.
Businesses and consumers used 17.6 billion cubic meters of gas in the first half of the year. That is a quarter less than in the first half of last year.
From the beginning of this year, consumers were therefore more frugal with gas. The mild winter has helped, but sky-high rates will also have contributed to the savings. Many consumers already had to deal with higher prices last autumn and this year even more households were added.
At companies that require a lot of energy, the decrease in gas consumption was even greater (more than 30%). This includes power stations, oil companies, the chemical sector and greenhouse horticulture.
In addition to consumption, the extraction of natural gas has also decreased. On land, 31% less was extracted from the ground, prompted by the phasing out of gas extraction in Groningen. Less was also extracted at sea (-11%).
The Netherlands also exported less gas in the first six months. Less was exported to Belgium and the United Kingdom in particular.
This was offset by a small growth in imports. This was partly due to the fact that we obtained more liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the US and Russia. Imports from Germany, on the other hand, fell sharply, by about 70%. Statistics Netherlands suspects that this mainly concerns Russian gas, which is often supplied to the Netherlands via its eastern neighbours.
Eneco will significantly reduce the compensation for owners of solar panels that feed electricity back into the electricity grid. From 5 September, the rate will be reduced to 9 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh). The fee is still linked to the electricity price and can therefore rise to more than 50 cents.
According to the AD, which was the first to write about the reduction, the measure means that solar panel owners with an expensive energy contract will receive hundreds of euros less on an annual basis for their power surplus. According to the newspaper, about a quarter of the 1.8 million Dutch households with solar panels generate 900 kWh more annually than they need.
According to Eneco, 9 cents per kWh is a market price. In recent years, the energy company has kept the regular electricity rate for the feed-in fee, but says that this is no longer necessary because solar panels have become a lot more popular.
On Twitter, Eneco is responding to questions from angry customers that the reduction will be introduced because the value of the electricity supplied is lower than normal. “That’s because many more households are going to supply.”
According to the Consumers’ Association, the rates for feed-in per energy provider vary considerably, from 5 to 56 cents per kWh. The consumer advocate has called on Minister Jetten for Climate and Energy to introduce a minimum rate.
Energy company Vattenfall recently announced that it would increase the feed-in fee from September. The company first paid 7 cents per kWh, which is 16.8 cents.
Update on Dujat & Members
The next Dujat event will take place next week on 7 September, which is our visit to the Floriade Expo in Almere in combination with a Yakult CSR Seminar. If you are interested but did not register yet, we welcome you to do so on our event site.
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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