- As Japan’s Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide considers whether to extend a state of emergency for the greater Tokyo area, officials in the affected prefectures are still divided. Saitama’s governor wants to maintain the restrictions, while his counterpart in Kanagawa insists it’s time to lift the declaration.The already extended measure that covers the capital plus Chiba, Saitama and Kanagawa prefectures is set to expire on Sunday. Suga will evaluate the stalled pace of decline in new cases during deliberations on whether it stays in place.On Monday, Tokyo reported 175 new cases of the coronavirus. That’s 59 more than last Monday. It’s been a similar picture for the past week, with each day’s tally higher than a week earlier.
At the same time, government data shows that hospital bed occupancy rates are improving. Compared with a week earlier, Tokyo has fallen from 28% to 25%, Saitama from 41% to 39%, Chiba 46% to 41%, and Kanagawa 27% to 25%.
Suga told a parliamentary committee meeting on Monday that it is too early to tell whether the state of emergency needs to continue. “The pace of decline in new cases has leveled off recently. We will listen to experts’ views before making a final decision,” he says. “I cannot tell under current conditions whether we should extend the declaration or not.”
Chiba’s governor, Morita Kensaku, is wary about lifting the restrictions, citing the emergence of new strains that are said to be more contagious.
“We have to halt the spread of the variants,” says Morita. “The number of people being infected has to be reduced, before the state of emergency should be lifted.”
Chiba Prefecture reported its first cluster of infections from a coronavirus variant on Monday. Variants have been detected in 17 positive cases, 12 of which have been traced to a restaurant where customers sang karaoke.
Saitama Governor Ono Motohiro has already made up his mind. “The rate of decline in new cases has started to slow recently in Saitama.” Ono says. “There are now signs that new case numbers are starting to go up again.” He says that shows Saitama is not ready for the state of emergency to end.
In Kanagawa, it is a different story, according to Governor Kuroiwa Yuji. He says the prefecture has already met the criteria for the state of emergency to be lifted.
“I feel people in Kanagawa are growing frustrated by all the restrictions,” says Kuroiwa, adding if new infections increase once again, he would immediately reinstate measures to stop the spread.
Tokyo Governor Koike Yuriko says the city is stepping up its efforts to secure more beds for COVID-19 patients. She warns that this will result in fewer beds for patients with other illnesses. “We want people to follow the basics to ensure they do not get infected, and do not get other people infected,” says Koike.
A government decision is expected later this week, possibly on Thursday, on whether the state of emergency will remain or end as scheduled.
- Japan is set to receive about 100 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer Inc across May and June, Kono Taro, the minister in charge of vaccination efforts said Friday, enough for nearly half of its population. The shipments from the drugmaker’s factory in Belgium will need to be individually approved under the European Union’s export controls, Kono said at a press conference.Prime Minister Suga has pledged to secure COVID-19 vaccines for Japan’s population of 126 million within the first half of 2021. The vaccine developed by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech SE, the only one the health ministry has approved so far, consists of two shots, meaning 100 million doses will be enough for 50 million people.Kono said after negotiations with Pfizer, Japan expects to receive nearly 1.8 million vials, which could yield up to about 10.7 million doses using low dead space syringes, per week in May, with shipments to further increase in June.
Such syringes, capable of drawing six doses from a vial, will be used to administer the second shots for health care professionals, while typical ones can only extract 5 doses from a vial. The vaccine for their first shots will be shipped from 12 April. The more efficient syringes will be used for inoculating elderly people as well.
Japan is in the process of inoculating 4.8 million health care workers and plans to expand the vaccine rollout to people aged 65 or older, a group of about 36 million, in mid-April. People with underlying conditions such as diabetes and those working at elderly care facilities will follow. Shots for the elderly will be delivered to municipalities by the end of June, Kono said.
Japan has lagged behind other countries such as the United States and Britain in its vaccine rollout amid a supply shortage due to production delays at Pfizer’s factory and the European Union’s export controls, which are set to run until the end of June. The fifth batch of the Pfizer vaccine, about 420,000 doses, will arrive in Japan on Monday, according to Kono. The country received its first shipment last month.
Public skepticism over side effects could also hold up the effort, with only 63.1% of respondents in a Kyodo News poll conducted last month saying they want to be inoculated.
Among the 181,184 people in the country who have received a shot, 37 claims of anaphylaxis, a severe and potentially fatal allergic reaction, were reported as of Thursday, but one of them was retracted, according to the health ministry. Kono added all of them had recovered. As for 17 cases reported by Tuesday, only seven were confirmed as being anaphylaxis following intricate exams based on international standards, the ministry said.
Furthermore, Kono says he will call on businesses to allow employees to take leave to be vaccinated, and that the government is considering ways to allow people to take leave from work to get inoculated or if they develop adverse reactions after being vaccinated. He also indicated the government may consider measures to carry out vaccinations at workplaces.
Prime Minister Suga already received his COVID-19 vaccine ahead of his visit to the United States. Arrangements are being made for Suga to meet US President Joe Biden early next month or later. He and each member of a Japanese delegation accompanying him will be vaccinated before their trip.
Suga received the first of two doses of the vaccine at the National Center for Global Health and Medicine in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward on Tuesday morning.
- On Thursday last week, Japan marked 10 years since a massive earthquake and tsunami devastated its northeastern coast, with services to mourn the more than 15,000 lives lost held in the hardest-hit areas and Tokyo.Residents in the severely affected prefectures of Fukushima, Iwate and Miyagi observed a moment of silence at 2:46 p.m., exactly a decade after the huge quake shook eastern and northeastern Japan, triggering a tsunami and nuclear disaster.Places for people to lay flowers were set up from the morning at various venues in the region, while some residents stood near the sea and other sites to clasp their hands together in prayer.
A national memorial ceremony has been held in Tokyo, where people also observed a moment of silence at 2:46 p.m. The government has held a memorial ceremony annually on 11 March starting in 2012, but the event was canceled last year and the number of attendees has been limited this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
At the ceremony, family members of victims spoke about their loss and how they are trying to move on. Saito Makoto is from Fukushima prefecture, one of the areas most devastated by the disaster.
This is the first time Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako attended the annual ceremony. The couple has visited the affected areas since the disaster and offered words of encouragement to survivors before Emperor Naruhito ascended the throne in 2019.
At the ceremony, the Emperor said that while he feels reconstruction has been progressing, various problems still remain. He said his heart aches when he turns his thoughts to those who have struggled.
Japan’s Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide said that 2,000 people still reside in temporary housing even though reconstruction is entering its final phases. He stressed the government’s commitment to leading reconstruction efforts. He added that Japan’s history of natural disasters has created resiliency in its people, and vowed that the country would follow past examples of “courage and hope.”
- Japan has asked nations sending their heads of state or governments to this summer’s Olympics and Paralympics to limit the number of their accompanying staff to just 11 people, according to sources.The restrictions are aimed at enabling countries to conduct Olympic diplomacy while minimizing the risk of the further spread of the novel coronavirus in Japan, the sources said Saturday. Countries are also requested to limit the size of their Cabinet-level delegations, such as those headed by sports ministers, to just 5 people each, the sources said.Top officials from around the world, including French President Emmanuel Macron, whose nation will host the 2024 Games in Paris, are expected to travel to Japan for the Olympics’ opening and closing ceremonies.
The Japanese government has called for the limits as Tokyo and nearby areas remain under the pandemic-induced state of emergency and are still struggling to contain the virus, the sources said.
A source with a foreign embassy said even visiting top-level officials will be asked to undergo coronavirus testing within 72 hours of departing for Japan and again upon arrival. They will be accompanied by Japanese government officials during their stays.
Visiting VIPs’ access to athletes will also be restricted, a source said. Travel will only be allowed using designated vehicles, with the use of public transport being prohibited in principle.
The Japanese government and the Tokyo Games organizing committee will explain their rules for visiting officials and virus countermeasures to governments through Japan’s embassies and their national Olympic committees. The final framework will be hammered out based on the coronavirus situation and the responses from participating countries.
Prior to the games’ one-year postponement, Tokyo had been preparing for more than 100 heads of state and government leaders to attend the opening ceremony. But with the global health crisis still raging, some top officials may refrain from making the trip.
- A Japanese association promoting the use of hydrogen as a next-generation energy source has made recommendations to build an environment that makes it easy to utilize the substance.The Japan Hydrogen Association consists of more than 190 Japanese firms and municipalities. Its three co-heads, Toyota Motor Chairman Uchiyamada Takeshi, Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group Chairman Kunibe Takeshi and Iwatani Corporation Chairman and CEO Makino Akiji, met Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Kajiyama Hiroshi on Tuesday. They handed him a document containing the recommendations.The government aims to boost domestic demand for hydrogen to 3 million tons by 2030. To help the government attain that goal, the association calls for the automobile, steel, financial and other industries to study ways to expand the use of hydrogen.
It recommends that the government boost budget and taxation support. It also asks that the government establish a special zone where related infrastructure can be intensively developed, and that any successful projects be applied to other areas.
Another proposal is to nurture human resources to work in research and development. Kajiyama said hydrogen is essential in achieving a goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
He expressed his willingness to work with the association to proceed with policies. He said he will do all he can to carry out regulatory reforms and institutional support based on the association’s views.