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Update on Japan
Daily coronavirus case numbers in Tokyo continue to decline, but the number of serious cases remains high.
Officials confirmed 1,915 new infections on Monday 30 August, which is the first time in over a month the figure dropped below 2,000. Week-on-week tallies have gone down for eight straight days, but hospitals remain under strain, with nearly 300 patients in serious condition.
Many facilities aren’t used to these sorts of cases. So a group of doctors, with expertise in using machines to help people who can’t breathe normally, are providing assistance. The experts say Sunday was the worst day yet with more than 900 patients across Japan relying on machines.
The government hopes vaccinations will help ease the burden on hospitals. More than 55% of the population has received at least one jab.
Nearly half the country remains under a state of emergency, as the Japanese government decided Wednesday last week to also place Hokkaido, Miyagi, Gifu, Aichi, Mie, Shiga, Okayama and Hiroshima under the state of emergency, meaning that 21 of Japan’s 47 prefectures are now included. While less strict than a lockdown, the declaration limits the scope of major events. The government also urges bars and restaurants not to serve alcohol.
Vaccinations against COVID-19 have progressed in Japan but the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus has sent daily reported cases surging in many parts of the country. Concerns are growing about infections spreading rapidly among young people as many students in Japan are returning to school after the summer break.
The government plans to distribute 800,000 antigen test kits for kindergartens, primary schools and junior high schools in Japan, and make sure teachers can get vaccinated as soon as possible.
Japan’s health ministry is also weighing mixing and matching different COVID-19 vaccines to help ease supply concerns and accelerate the country’s inoculation program, Kono Taro, the minister in charge of vaccinations said Sunday, promising a timely administering of booster shots for the coronavirus, as the nation aims to fully vaccinate its population by October or November.
They have been dealing with a contaminant issue with the Moderna vaccine that started on Thursday 26 August, when the ministry said foreign substances have been confirmed in 39 unused vials at eight vaccination sites in Ibaraki, Saitama, Tokyo, Gifu and Aichi.
The ministry the same day halted the use of around 1.63 million doses of the three lots, which came from a Spanish manufacturer for Moderna, as a precaution. Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide told reporters that he had instructed the ministry to look into the case with safety as the top priority, adding he had received reports that the withdrawal “won’t have a significant impact on the country’s vaccination campaign.”
Schools across Japan are stepping up measures against student suicides that have been on the rise amid the coronavirus pandemic, holding sessions about mental health and using technology to help students report their moods.
Japan logged a record-high 499 student suicides last year amid the pandemic, with many believed to have felt lonely during school closures that lasted for months to prevent the virus spread. The figure for the first half of 2021 was higher than a year ago, government data showed.
At a mental health educational session organized by a junior high school in Wakayama Prefecture in March, a school counselor explained to around 140 students how to spot signs they may be developing mental health conditions.
The counselor Fujita Eriko, 54, who is also a certified psychologist, advised the second-graders to look out for changes in habits, such as eating more desserts and spending more time with pets.
“You can learn about your mental condition by noticing changes in your physical health and behavior,” Fujita said.
Since the session, more students at the school, which is affiliated with Wakayama University’s Faculty of Education, have consulted with teachers about mental health. “Awareness that it is important to seek help has spread,” Fujita said.
Osaka city’s education board introduced in April a software application titled “weather of the heart” to check students’ mental health. The app is loaded onto tablet computers used by all children at elementary and junior high schools run by the western Japan city.
In the morning assembly, students can choose one option out of “sunny,” “cloudy,” “rain” and “thunder” to indicate how they feel that day. The results are automatically sent to teachers’ devices, informing them about changes in the mood of students who picked a different option from before.
“It can be helpful for young teachers with less teaching experience,” said a member of the education board.
Noda Tetsuro, a professor at Hyogo University of Teacher Education, said, “While it is important to facilitate an environment so students can easily send out an SOS (for help), schools are required to prepare a system to carefully respond to such calls.”
“The government needs to expand assistance at schools by increasing the number of teachers or counselors,” Noda added.
COVID outbreaks lead to worker shortages at palm oil and chicken producers, driving up food prices in Japan.
Coronavirus-induced worker shortages at farms and food distributors in Southeast Asia are being felt by supermarket shoppers thousands of kilometers away in Japan. The price of palm oil — an ingredient in margarine and many other products — has spiked in Japan to a high not seen since 1985, up 32% from a year earlier at around 217 yen (€1,67) per kilogram this month.
The challenge facing food makers is the same as the one that forced Toyota Motor to cut global production: securing vital imports from understaffed Southeast Asian suppliers.
In Malaysia, a major exporter of palm oil that produced roughly 1.52 million tons in July, production is down 16% from a year earlier, according to the Malaysian Palm Oil Board. Malaysia and other Southeast Asian nations depend on migrant workers for labor-intensive work like farming.
This is having a knock-on effect in Japan. Food company Meiji, a household name in products from milk to chocolate bars, said it would raise margarine prices by between 4.3% and 12.8% starting with October deliveries. Its rival Megmilk Snow Brand will raise prices on its margarines by between 1.9% and 12.2% as well from the same month’s deliveries.
“It has become difficult to find workers in places like Malaysia, which produces the palm oil,” a Meiji manager said.
Palm oil is not the only Southeast Asian import affected by the coronavirus. Wholesale prices of Thai poultry have jumped to 42-month highs because processing plants have been closed due to worker infections. Frozen chicken thigh meat, a dinner table staple, now cost 390 yen per kilogram wholesale. Thailand accounts for about a quarter of Japan’s chicken supplies.
With COVID-19 outbreaks in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations members showing no signs of abating, the strain on supply chains looks likely to continue. This indicates disease control measures will continue to affect key industries. In Japan, makers of daily necessities are starting to discuss changes to business continuity plans.
“At this stage, there is no significant direct impact,” said a representative at Kao, which makes and sells detergent and other products in ASEAN. But “we are discussing business continuity plans concerning production and other areas” to prepare for a prolonged pandemic, the person added.
As the Paralympic Games have started, Japan’s efforts to improve accessibility and inclusion are in the spotlight, with many arguing there is still plenty of work to do.
Some 4,400 athletes with impairments compete in Tokyo at the world’s biggest parasports tournament. It’s a place for sporting history, but also an event organizers say can change attitudes towards people with disabilities.
Disability rights experts and activists paint a mixed picture of the situation in Japan. There has been progress on barrier-free infrastructure, with officials calling accessibility important both for people with disabilities but also the country’s large elderly population. A barrier-free enforcement law has been revised twice in recent years to promote accessibility at public facilities.
Particular efforts have been made in Tokyo’s mammoth train system, with elevators operating at around 96% of stations as of 2019, the city government says. By 2019, 82% of Tokyo subway stations also had platform gates to keep visually impaired passengers and others safe — up from 56% in 2013. New hotels with more than 50 rooms are also required to make at least one of every 100 barrier-free.
“In terms of the number of barrier-free facilities, Japan appears advanced,” said Miki Matheson, deputy chief of Japan’s Paralympic delegation. But the three-time Paralympic gold medalist, who lives in Canada and is in Tokyo for the Games, says accessibility is not the same as inclusion.
“I’m often treated as a disabled person when I’m back in Japan,” said Matheson, who uses a wheelchair. “In Canada, I live without noticing my disability at all.” Activists say the workplace is an example of the barriers that remain. Under government rules, workers with disabilities must make up at least 2.3% of staff at all companies. Larger firms face fines for non-compliance.
In 2018, the government was forced to apologize for routinely overstating the number of disabled people on its staff to meet quotas. Motoaki Fujita, a sports sociology professor at Nihon Fukushi University and a parasports expert, says Japan has become more inclusive, “but the change is still marginal.”
Some 57% of people surveyed by Fujita’s team last year said they “certainly or somewhat” believe people with disabilities are weak and have difficulty living with non-disabled people. That’s only slightly less than the 61% who felt the same in a 2014 poll.
Tokyo’s Paralympics will take place with almost no spectators because of virus rules, which some fear could blunt its impact on Japanese society. International Paralympic Committee President Andrew Parsons admits the spectator ban is “a challenge,” but argues broadcasts will reach billions around the world.
“The Games themselves are a catalyst,” he told AFP. “It’s the moment when people see athletes in action, and that’s when this change really occurs.” In Japan, he added, there is “still a lot of progress to be made. But we believe that we have started to see a change.”
Japan’s government aims to enable residents of no-entry zones near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant to return home by 2029.
A joint meeting of taskforces on reconstruction and the nuclear disaster on Tuesday approved a policy on government efforts that would be made to lift the evacuation order for the zones before 2030. The policy is aimed at areas with no prospects of evacuation orders being lifted, in zones designated as “difficult-to-return”.
The taskforces said the government will carefully confirm the wishes of all residents and decontaminate necessary locations if they wish to return.
Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide said that more than 11 years since the disaster, reconstruction is progressing steadily thanks to the efforts of the affected people. But he said recovery from the nuclear disaster requires a mid-and-long-term response.
Suga said thorough discussions on local community decontamination work will take place to lower radiation levels so residents can return. On a plan to release treated water from the plant into the ocean, Suga said the government will carefully convey information and prevent unfounded rumors from spreading.
He said the government will work as a whole and do everything necessary for Fukushima’s recovery and revival. He added that the entire Cabinet will make full efforts with the recognition that they are all ministers in charge of recovery.
Update on the Netherlands
From October, companies can no longer rely on support packages such as NOW, Tozo, TONK and TVL. The outgoing cabinet finds support no longer necessary now that many corona restrictions have been lifted and the economy is flourishing again. Also, companies can no longer request tax deferrals.
The economy is slowly blossoming again, because the lockdown measures have expired. Companies also make less use of emergency support measures and unemployment figures are low, the government believes.
The caretaker cabinet is looking at whether an exception can be made for night catering, among other things, because it is still unclear whether nightclubs and discotheques will be allowed to open their doors again in September.
Support is also provided to the self-employed who need it. The Tozo will expire, but the regular social assistance rules (Bbz) will be relaxed temporarily, so it does not matter how much savings you have. The normal social assistance rules will be applied again from 1 January 2022.
The aid cost the government 80 billion. Nearly 26 billion euros were spent in 2020 and 2021 on the Emergency Bridging Measure for Employment (NOW), according to figures from the Court of Audit. The Fixed Charges Allowance (TVL) cost 9.11 billion.
Since the start of the crisis, 369,000 entrepreneurs have applied for tax deferrals for an amount of more than 40 billion euros. Part of this (16.6 billion) has since been repaid or reduced if, for example, the tax assessment has not been properly determined (4.6 billion). On balance, almost 20 billion in tax debt is currently open to 270,000 entrepreneurs.
The news that the outgoing cabinet is stopping the support schemes is not entirely unexpected. Due to the vaccination campaign, the number of infections is falling, the cabinet already announced this spring that it wanted to reduce support.
In the third quarter, the cabinet already implemented an initial cutback in the wage subsidy that companies can receive. Since July, companies that are still suffering from the corona crisis can give up a maximum of 80% of the loss of turnover.
The last plane with evacuees from Afghanistan landed at Schiphol on Friday 27 August. There were 87 people on board the plane, all with Dutch passports. In total, the Netherlands has brought about 2,500 people from Afghanistan to the Netherlands.
According to outgoing minister Ank Bijleveld (Defence), it is “not realistic” that the Netherlands can still evacuate people from the Afghan capital before 31 August.
The Dutch government has completed the evacuation mission after two bomb attacks at Kabul airport on Thursday. In the coming days, the Dutch soldiers and diplomats will return who have arranged the evacuation at Kabul International Airport in recent days. Some of the soldiers will remain in the region until 31 August.
The 2,500 evacuees who have arrived in the Netherlands are Dutch nationals, embassy staff, interpreters and their families, some of the staff of the EU, UN and NATO, human rights defenders, local employees of Dutch aid organizations and people who have worked for Dutch media. The Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers has opened a fifth emergency reception center in Amsterdam to receive the refugees.
The outgoing cabinet is expected to allocate another 6 to 7 billion euros extra for climate measures, to reduce CO2 emissions. This is reported by insiders following a report in De Telegraaf. In addition, RTL Nieuws writes that an extra 400 million euros will be made available for fighting crime. The cabinet will announce these measures at the end of September on Budget Day (Prinsjesdag).
The climate money would mainly be spent in the form of subsidies, which, for example, stimulate sustainable energy production for companies. According to De Telegraaf , private individuals are also encouraged to become more sustainable with the money, for example by purchasing an electric car or insulating their home.
There are reportedly no plans on the table to close an additional coal-fired power station, an option that was also often mentioned in recent times to reduce emissions in the Netherlands.
The cabinet is taking the climate measures as a result of the Urgenda case, in which the Supreme Court decided that the cabinet must do more against climate change.
No decision will be made on Budget Day on measures to further reduce nitrogen emissions. This will be up to a coming cabinet, sources say. A proposal for the longer term to create more nitrogen space for housing is already being looked at. Such a proposal could also be used by the forming parties.To search
In a response, environmental group Urgenda says it wonders for which period the money will be allocated. “If this money is intended for one year, then it is a nice amount. But not if it is intended for the next ten years, for example,” said a spokesperson.
The organization is also curious what the money is intended for. Investments in making companies sustainable are necessary, but according to Urgenda, they will do little in the short term. “Betting on more solar energy, energy savings or closing a coal-fired power station will do.”
In addition to the money for climate measures, more budget will be made available for combating crime. For example, according to RTL Nieuws , investigative organizations will receive 50 million euros more and more money will also go to the security of threatened persons. The House of Representatives had requested this in response to the murder of crime journalist Peter R. de Vries.
In addition, extra money is being earmarked for community police officers and the social advocacy sector will receive around 150 million euros. Social lawyers assist people who do not have the means to pay an expensive lawyer.
According to various media, the cabinet is also allocating 200 million euros to increase the purchasing power of people with a minimum wage, single earners and families in particular. According to the NOS, there is also a ‘policy-poor’ budget because the cabinet is caretaker.
Primary and secondary schools in the Central region (South Holland, Utrecht and Gelderland) opened their doors again on Monday. The summer vacation in the North region was already over last week. At the same time, students and employees in MBO, HBO and at universities no longer have to keep their distance from this week.
In primary and secondary education, the corona rules have changed slightly compared to before the summer holidays. For example, teachers and students who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 at least two weeks ago no longer need to be quarantined if they have been in contact with an infected person.
It is too early to say whether that policy has led to relatively more infections in the North region (Groningen, Friesland, Overijssel, Drenthe, North Holland, Flevoland and parts of Utrecht and Gelderland).
The MBOs are also opening step-by-step, following the regional division that applies to primary and secondary schools. That is why MBO students in the North region had to keep their distance from each other in the past week. In secondary vocational education and higher education, a number of measures still apply that should limit the number of new infections. For example, a maximum of 75 people can be in one room.
For most universities, the first classes will start in the next week. The academic year is kicked off on 6 September at the majority of educational institutions, but some courses at universities of applied sciences – such as visual arts courses – started lessons earlier.
Festive introduction weeks for students were also organized in various cities, and have so far not led to many corona infections, the National Consultation and Contact Introduction Weeks (LOCI) reported on Monday based on figures from various introduction weeks.
On Monday, the newspaper Trouw reported on the basis of Nuffic, an organization for the internationalization of education, that less students are opting for education abroad this year. The exact number of students going abroad this year is unknown. But according to Nuffic, two thirds of the students have postponed such plans. The company discussed the matter with about 800 students.
The number of households with solar panels continues to grow. Approximately 1.5 million households now have solar panels, compared to 1 million last year.
Rental homes are also increasingly getting solar panels, reports the Climate Agreement Progress Consultation, based on data from research agency Dutch New Energy Research (DNER).
DNER calculates with a total of eight million households in the Netherlands. In recent years, the pace at which houses are getting solar panels has accelerated, the research firm says. On average, around 240,000 homes have been fitted with solar panels per year in the past three years. “If this trend continues, all suitable homes could have solar panels by 2030,” said senior researcher Steven Heshusius.
Most houses are suitable for installing solar panels, but not all. “Sometimes there is less space available due to other buildings, such as air conditioning”, says Heshusius. Of the 1.5 million households with solar panels, the majority have an owner-occupied home. Only a small part consists of rental properties.
The research bureau also mapped out that solar panels can be installed at many more houses in the Netherlands. DNER also points to the more than one million houses of housing associations.
Most panels are now located on business premises and in solar parks. Due to the increase in renewable energy, including solar and wind farms, grid operators are warning that the energy grid will fill up. In order to cope with the high demand for renewable energy, billions of euros will be invested in the coming years.
Update on Dujat & Members
On Tuesday 31 August, a seminar took place for a select group at AKD, focusing on the complicated matters of Mandatory Disclosure (DAC6).
We would like to specially thank AKD for the smooth organization and for the explanation of such a technical topic. It was difficult, but interesting!
Registrations have opened for our Future Mobility Event on Wednesday 15 September, at the Louwman Museum in The Hague, in cooperation with Louwman Group and AON.
The field of mobility is constantly evolving due to technical innovations, social trends and other disruptions such as the current pandemic. To learn more about these recent changes, as well as the role of mobility in risk management, we welcome you to join our Future Mobility & Olympics Event at Louwman Museum.
With presentations by Louwman Group, Aon, our special key speaker – three consecutive Olympic medalist sailing, Marit Bouwmeester, and a toast by H.E. Mr. Horinouchi, Ambassador of Japan.
Due to the fact that we can work with the CoronaCheck app for proof of vaccination or negative test, we do not have to work with a maximum number of attendees at 1.5m distance.
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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