Weekly Update: News on Japan & the Netherlands – Week 11, 2021

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Update on Japan

  • 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.”

  • Japanese airlines operating international flights have been asked by the transport ministry to limit weekly arrivals to up to 3,400 each in a bid to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, sources familiar with the matter said Thursday.The restrictions came into effect on Monday. Meanwhile, overseas airlines operating flights to Narita, Haneda and Kansai airports, all popular international transport hubs, have been required to reduce arrivals to up to 80 people per flight from the current 100 starting 19 March, according to the sources.Japan Airlines Co has stopped pre-order ticket sales for flights from Britain, France and Germany, which have all seen an increasing number of coronavirus variant cases, since Saturday through 31 March.

    Domestic rival All Nippon Airways Co has stopped accepting new reservations for all international flights to Japan since Monday through 21 March. The suspension may be extended, it said.

  • 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.

  • Tokyo saw cherry blossoms begin blooming Sunday, the same date as last year and the earliest date since records began in 1953, the Meteorological Agency said.A sample Somei-Yoshino cherry tree at Yasukuni Shrine in Chiyoda Ward began flowering on the day, 12 days earlier than an average year, according to the agency. Somei-Yoshino trees in Tokyo are expected to be in full bloom in a week to 10 days, the agency said.The tree’s first blooming of the season in the nation was observed in Hiroshima last Thursday, 16 days earlier than average. That was the second earliest on record in Japan after the first blooming was observed in Kochi on 10 March, 2010, according to the agency.

    Warmer than usual weather in February this year probably brought forward the blooming dates, an agency official said.

Update on the Netherlands

‘Corona-proof’ voting for the 2021 parliamentary elections in one of the drive-through polling stations.
  • Hospitals in the Netherlands were treating 2,019 people for COVID-19 on Monday afternoon, the highest current total since 8 February. At the same time, over two months into the vaccination process, just one corona related death was reported from a care home down from a second-wave peak of 69 in early January.The hospital total rose 5% in a day, and was 6% higher compared to last Monday. The tally fluctuated between 1,800 and 2,000 for over four weeks, but patient coordination office LCPS raised concerns during that time that highly contagious B117 coronavirus mutation could cause more infections and thus more hospitalizations for COVID-19.Hospitals placed an average of 208 corona patients into regular care on each of the past seven days, up nearly 20% in a week. On average, forty others were placed in intensive care, unchanged from last week.

    “The daily influx into hospitals is increasing slightly,” the LCPS wrote on Monday, mentioning the assumed dominance of the B117 strain. “On this basis, we expect a gradual increase in COVID hospital occupancy.” Of the 2,019 patients, 1,455 were in regular care, a net increase of 87. The other 564 were in intensive care, reflecting an increase of ten.

    Data from public health agency RIVM showed that the moving average of new coronavirus infections stood at 5,588 after rising for eight straight days to the highest mark in nearly two months. Another 5,549 people tested positive for the COVID-19 infection, the RIVM said on Monday, up 41% from a week ago, but down 8% from Sunday.

    An estimated 1,892,689 vaccine doses have now been administered in the Netherlands. Most of those were a person’s first dose, with around a half-million having been fully vaccinated against the disease.

  • As a precaution, the Netherlands decided to suspend the use of the coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca for two weeks. Up to 28 March, no one will be given this vaccine, the Ministry of Public Health said on Sunday night. Tens of thousands of vaccination appointments were canceled. This does not affect scheduled shots with the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.The suspension follows reports from several countries of people getting thrombosis after getting an AstraZeneca shot. These involve serious, rare signs of blood clot formation and a reduced number of blood platelets in adults under the age of 50 years. Six new reports of these possible side effects were received from Denmark and Norway, the Ministry said on Sunday.On Tuesday 16 March a EU Commission press conference took place about the side effects of the vaccine, where The European Medicines Agency EMA said to be strongly convinced that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh its risks. As of now, there is no evidence of an increased risk of blood clotting in people vaccinated with the vaccine, EMA director Emer Cooke said .

    The EMA director also said she is not surprised at the fuss surrounding the vaccine. “If you vaccinate millions of people, it makes sense that incidental cases will present themselves and they will stand out. It is up to us to investigate whether this is indeed related to the vaccine, or whether there are other causes.”

    The results of the additional studies are expected on Thursday. It will then also be announced whether additional measures are being taken regarding the AstraZeneca vaccine. Until then, Cooke urges people to report side effects to a doctor. All other vaccines will also be tested for side effects, but AstraZeneca’s has priority.

    As soon as the AtsraZeneca vaccine is cleared to be used again, extra appointments will be scheduled to clear the backlog caused by the vaccine not being used in the coming weeks, public health institute RIVM said on Monday. The GGD health services have enough people at the vaccination sites to “make up for the delay quickly”, the service said to ANP.

    Minister Hugo de Jonge of Public Health also told television program Goedemorgen Nederland that he does not expect this pause in AstraZeneca vaccinations to cause a major delay. He is hopeful that the vaccines will be cleared and can then simply be used again. “If we can continue as usual in a few weeks, and I assume that we can, then it really doesn’t make much of a difference with where we were.”

  • Dutch dentists say that they are prepared to lend a hand in administering coronavirus vaccines. Member of the dentist’s union KNMT, Henk Donker, said in an interview with BNR that dentists have the capacity to vaccinate patients quickly because the necessary equipment is already there. “Dentists have much experience with injections. Giving an anesthetic to the lower jaw is much more difficult than a simple injection in the upper arm”, Donker said.He said that their offers to assist with vaccinations had been previously rejected by the Ministry of Health. “They did not accept it. Because I had time to spare, I made myself available to the GGD. They said: ‘We do not use dentists for vaccinations.’ But I have friends who are dentists in Den Haag and Leiden that are helping. So there is no clear-cut policy in this either.”The proposal from the KNMT comes at the same time that GPs say they are struggling to keep up with vaccinations while and provide regular health care at the same time. Donker said he thinks the Netherlands should follow the example of the United States, where dentists and even veterinarians are allowed to administer coronavirus vaccines.

    Former chief inspector at the Inspection for Medical Care, Wim Schellekens, is skeptical about the offer. “Of course, they know how to give a shot. But we are vaccinating vulnerable people here who require special regulations and have an increased dependency on their GP.”

    Schellekens said that vaccinating people in dentists’ offices could pose a logistical problem. “When you are vaccinating people in large numbers, you need to ensure there is enough space to keep distance, also because you need to wait 15 minutes after the vaccination to check if patients have any complications. Dentists have to provide that space too and I wonder if they are capable of that.” He said that the final decision should rest with the local GGD.

  • The government pushed another over 700 million euros into extending its coronavirus support measures for businesses, Minister Bas van ‘t Wout of Economic Affairs announced on Friday.The cabinet decided to increase the maximum fixed costs compensation for entrepreneurs from 85% to 100%. Like most measures in the government’s coronavirus support package, this TVL scheme is based on the percentage of lost turnover. If an entrepreneur lost 100% of its turnover due to the pandemic, the government will cover 100% of their fixed costs.The government is also increasing the budget to support people struggling to pay their bills due to the pandemic. The Tweede Kamer, the lower house of Dutch parliament, asked for this increase during a debate on Wednesday. Van ‘t Wout said that the cabinet listened carefully to signals from municipalities, entrepreneurs, and parliament in its decision to extend these measures.
  • Dutch mayors will issue no permits for major events in the Netherlands until after 5 May, the mayors that head the 25 security regions decided in their weekly Security Council meeting o Monday. Hubert Bruls, chairman of the council and mayor of Nijmegen, said afterwards that people will likely only be allowed to gather en masse again “towards the summer”, NOS reports.According to Bruls, there is a lot of excitement around event access with negative coronavirus tests. But if the government decides to walk that route, it first has to be tested on a small scale. “It sounds very nice on paper, but we’ve never done it in the Netherlands,” Bruls said. It will therefore take time before it can be used for major events.This decision means that King’s Day on 27 April and Liberation Day on 5 May will again not be celebrated on a large scale this year. The pandemic also moved these celebrations online last year.

    The 4 and 5 May Committee announced this week that the Liberation Festivals will again be online this year, with more than 200 performances via livestream on 5 May. King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima will spend the King’s birthday in Eindhoven this year, but without the usual crowds. Some small-scale activities will be arranged, especially for children and the elderly, but the majority of this event will be held online.

  • On Monday 15 March, a total of 6% of Dutch voters cast their vote in the 2021 parliamentary election, according to research firm Ipsos. This does not include mail-in votes. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s election is being held over three days, instead of the usual one.Approximately 1,600 polling stations were open on Monday between 7:30 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. and with the same hours on Tuesday. The intention is that people who are extra vulnerable to the coronavirus use this time to vote safely. On Wednesday, all 9,200 polling stations will be open between 7:30 and 9:00 p.m. for all other voters.Elderly people age 70 and older were given the option to vote by mail this year. About 8% of postal votes received were declared invalid due to form errors. Though Minister Kasja Ollongren of Home Affairs said she would change the procedure so that these could be counted too.

    A completely corona-proof way to vote is by going to a drive-through polling station, where the voter only has to open the car window to pick up the iconic red pencil, which is possible in multiple areas such as BrabantTwenteAlmere and Utrecht.

  • Storm ‘Evert’ that hit the Netherlands on Thursday last week has caused at least 30 million euros in damage, according to preliminary figures from the Dutch Association of Insurers. Reports of damages came from all over the country, the association said on Friday, NOS reports.This concerns damage to buildings and vehicles, which most people are well insured against, the association said. The actual damage done is expected to be higher, as damage to agriculture and government property was not included in this amount.Many damage reports came from Zeeland, the coastal areas and the north of the country. In the Limburg town of Bemelen, a pedestrian was killed when a tree fell on them.
  • The reign of the “OV chipkaart” in Dutch public transport is coming to an end, according to Gerbrant Corbee of Translink, the issuer of the cards. Translink is launching a new payment method, using debit card and smartphone, called OVPay. This will completely phase out the chipkaart by end 2023, Corbee said to De Telegraaf.”We are launching this new payment system this week on the city buses in Lelystad to see if it works in practice,” Corbee said. Lelystad will be the experiment to identify and remove teething problems. “Then the rest of the country will follow for all transport. This year 60 thousand gates and card readers will already be adapted for OVpay.”Pedro Peters of public transport umbrella organization OV-NL confirmed the transition to this new payment method, saying that the public transport companies are pushing 100 million euros into it.

    “OVpay is a more modern solution that offers the traveler easy, fast and safe public transport. We are working on combinations with theaters, museums, attractions, events, shared cars and bicycles, so that people can use one QR-code for going out on the train, bus, tram and metro,” Peters said to the newspaper.

Update on Dujat & Members

  • Last week, Dujat commemorated the victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami by visiting the memorial stone in Amstelveen and laying flowers, together with Mr. Poppens, Mayor of Amstelveen.The memorial stone in the Cherry Blossom park at the Amsterdamse Bos became part of the park in 2012, exactly one year after the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011.
  • As of this month, Daiwa House Europe is a new member of Dujat. Welcome! We look forward to welcoming you at our events and introduce you to other members as soon as we can go back to offline events.
  • If your company has any news to share in next week’s newsletter, let us know by sending an e-mail to vangastel@dujat.nl.

Kind regards,

Jinn van Gastel
Project Manager at Dujat

DUJAT (Dutch and Japanese Trade Federation)

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Sources: Nu.nlNOSRTV UtrechtJapanTodayNHKJapanTimes