Weekly Update: News on Japan & the Netherlands – Week 13, 2021

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Update on Japan

Prefectures across Japan are seeing yet another spike in coronavirus cases. Some governors warn that the country is entering a fourth wave of infection. The western prefecture of Osaka reported 213 cases on Monday. This is the highest figure for a Monday in over two months. The prefecture lifted its emergency declaration on February 28 and infection numbers have been creeping up since.”The growing number of untraceable cases suggests that Osaka is at the start of an outbreak that is spreading through community transmission,” says Osaka governor Yoshimura Hirofumi. “We believe this will be the fourth wave of infection.

“Yoshimura plans to ask the central government to grant him the authority to implement stronger preventive measures without declaring another state of emergency. These could include fines for businesses that refuse to close early.It’s not only major urban areas where the virus is spreading. The northeastern prefectures of Yamagata and Miyagi are both seeing spikes. In response, the local governments are asking restaurants in the prefectural capitals to shorten their operating hours.Yamagata governor Yoshimura Mieko is calling on residents of her prefecture to avoid non-essential travel to Miyagi. The two regions have close economic ties. She says the priority is to prevent a collapse of the medical care system, and urged for the cooperation of residents and businesses.Nakanome Chiyuki, the head of the Yamagata Medical Association, says the prefecture is struggling to manage.

“We don’t have medical resources here like they do in big cities,” he says. “We already had to postpone regular hospital visits and surgeries. Yamagata is on the brink of a crisis.”Japan’s vaccine rollout will begin in earnest next month. Healthcare workers at medical institutions across the country have been receiving shots since February, but the government will start administering the vaccine to the general public next month. It begins with the elderly on 12 April.But a group of researchers at the University of Tsukuba warns that the vaccine will have little effect on infection rates during the initial months of the rollout. The team used artificial intelligence to project how cases would rise in Tokyo.

The study found that without vaccines, the capital would experience a peak of about 1,850 new cases per day in mid-May. If 35,000 elderly citizens are vaccinated every day, the peak figure would drop to about 1,650. That represents a dip of just 10.8% from the no-vaccine projection. If the government ramps up vaccines to 115,000 per day, new cases would peak at about 1,540 – a 16.8% decrease from the no-vaccine figure.

Professor Kurahashi Setsuya, who led the project, predicts the effects of the vaccine on overall case numbers will not start to become evident until July, even if the rollout goes smoothly. He says people must not let their guard down, and continue to observe proper preventive guidelines. “It’s important to continue following basic anti-virus measures,” he says. “They remain the best way to prevent infections.”

As Japan struggles to procure COVID-19 vaccines from foreign manufactures in a timely manner, the government has backpedaled on its plan to let people choose which vaccine to get, with its vaccinations chief saying nothing has been decided yet.Kobayashi Fumiaki, senior official for the vaccination campaign, said on a TV program on Sunday that the government will give the choice to people by making information available on which type of vaccine is offered at each vaccination site. He said some people are reluctant to get vaccinated due to concerns about side effects. “We’ll create an environment where people have a choice,” he said, which was also reported by several media platforms.

But on Tuesday, Kono Taro, minister in charge of vaccine rollout, denied such a plan. “That was totally misleading. I would like to retract that comment and apologize,” Kono said a news conference.The nation’s vaccination campaign began in February, starting with medical workers. Inoculations for older people are due to begin on 12 April using Pfizer Inc.’s shot.The seventh batch of the Pfizer vaccine arrived on Monday as the country continues to inoculate health care workers in the first stage of its vaccine rollout. Vaccinations for people aged 65 and over are set to begin 12 April across the country, but the initial rollout will be limited and uneven at the local level, Kono said in an interview Monday.“It will be very slow,” Kono said. “The prefectural governors asked us to go slowly so that they can check the systems and so that all the cities and towns can get ready for the vaccinations.” One time-consuming issue slowing the rollout is the need for doctors to learn a new technical system to track vaccine numbers, Kono said.Japan is still limiting COVID-19 vaccines to health care workers, with more than 780,000 first vaccine doses administered in Japan as of Monday — a number that accounts for less than 1% of its more than 125 million residents.

The country’s vaccination plan has been scrutinized for its slow pace compared to other developed countries and its Asian neighbors, especially as Tokyo prepares to host the Olympics in July with no timeline on when most people will be inoculated.Meanwhile, a Japanese pharmaceuticals firm has begun manufacturing the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine in the country, and says it expects to start shipping vaccine stock solution as early as April, in what it hopes will “fulfill the people’s expectations.”To find out about how JCR Pharmaceuticals Co., based in the west Japan city of Ashiya in Hyogo Prefecture, came to be tasked with making the vaccine in Japan and receiving orders for it, as well as how it expects progress to continue, the Mainichi Shimbun spoke with its president and CEO, Ashida Shin.

Although there are some uncertainties regarding the AstraZeneca vaccine, including reports of adverse reactions and doubts over clinical trial data, Sonoda indicated the company intends to continue manufacturing, and said clearly, “It’s not the case that any information other than that already reported has been shared. As a company, we are not in a position to comment.”

All Nippon Airways Co. (ANA) on Monday conducted Japan’s first trial of the “CommonPass” app indicating a traveler’s COVID-19 status at Tokyo’s Haneda airport as part of efforts by the global travel industry to make cross-border travel easier and safer.The app, one of a number of digital health passports being trialed around the world to allow airlines and authorities to expedite immigration procedures at airports, is backed by the World Economic Forum. It certifies both coronavirus test results and vaccination status.

The Commons Project Foundation, the developer of CommonPass, said it aims to launch the digital platform in countries worldwide for “a more trustworthy model for validating the health status of incoming travelers” as virus test results are usually presented in the form of paper documentation with no global standard format.The app will not reveal any other underlying personal health information, according to ANA and the foundation. At Tokyo’s Haneda airport, ANA officials checked a passenger’s smartphone to confirm negative virus test results at a check-in counter for a flight departing for New York.

“As the process went smoothly, I had more time and energy to spare,” said Osato Ikuko , a 44-year-old nurse from Fukushima Prefecture who participated in the test run as a volunteer. Commenting on the project, Hirasawa Juichi, ANA senior vice president for corporate planning, said, “We are constantly looking for ways to make the travel experience safer and more convenient.””Our trials of the CommonPass Health application will help us to ensure that these procedures will enable us to simplify international travel while also protecting passenger privacy,” Hirasawa said.

The coronavirus pandemic has brought significant economic impacts in Japan, with the widening gap between the rich and the poor being a prime example. The pandemic has cost many jobs, especially in the dining and travel industries.The number of regular employees rose 360,000 in 2020 from a year earlier, but that of nonregular workers dropped 750,000, according to Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications data.The result indicated that companies adjusted employment by cutting nonregular staff to survive the pandemic-hit economy. Ryutaro Kono, chief economist at BNP Paribas Securities (Japan) Ltd, said the unstable nonregular employment is one of the reasons for the slow economic recovery in recent years.

If consumer spending becomes sluggish as nonregular workers cut expenditures on fears of being laid off in recessions, “The recovery of the Japanese economy will continue to be lackluster,” Kono warned.Japanese retail sales fell for the third straight month in February, government data showed on Tuesday, as households kept a lid on expenditure amid the coronavirus emergency, underscoring the fragile nature of the economy’s recovery from last year’s slump.Analysts expect Japan’s economy sharply contracted in the first quarter, as lackluster consumer spending and weakening exports create challenges for policymakers who have already rolled out massive stimulus.Retail sales lost 1.5% in February from a year earlier, a smaller fall than the median market forecast for a 2.8% drop. But it marked the third straight month of declines following January’s 2.4% fall and a 0.2% drop in December.

“That the coronavirus isn’t subsiding is a major reason to worry about a delay of an economic recovery,” said Takeda Atsushi, chief economist at Itochu Economic Research Institute.”Clothes aren’t selling because people aren’t going out,” he said. “People are not really returning to commercial facilities, the trend is for them to go shopping at supermarkets in their neighborhoods.”The broader decline in retail sales was driven by falls in spending on items such as clothing, toiletries and general merchandise, the data showed. Compared with the previous month, retail sales rose 3.1% on a seasonally adjusted basis. Separate data showed the nationwide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was steady at 2.9%, lower than the median forecast of 3.0%.

There were 1.09 jobs per applicant in February, down from the previous month’s 1.10, labor ministry data showed. The world’s third-largest economy is set to contract by an annualised 6.0% in the current quarter, which would be the first decline in three quarters partly due to sagging consumer spending, according to the latest Reuters poll data.

Some analysts are worried that a longer contraction in household spending and weakening exports raise the prospect of a slower economic recovery than initially thought.

A yellow sandstorm covered wide areas of western and northeastern Japan on Tuesday, prompting the Japan Meteorological Agency to warn of possible disruptions to transportation due to poor visibility.In Osaka, visibility was about five kilometers on Tuesday morning, and less than four kilometers in parts of Yamaguchi, Shiga, Fukuoka, Oita and Hyogo prefectures, the agency said.

The yellow sand, which is carried on westerly winds from China, is expected to continue on Wednesday and may also reach parts of northern Japan.Last week, China’s capital of Beijing and much of the country’s north were blanketed by the sandstorm. The storms are a frequent occurrence in spring as sand from the Gobi and other western deserts blow in an easterly direction.

Amusement parks Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea have stopped referring to visitors as “ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls” in their English announcements, opting instead to use gender-neutral terms, operator Oriental Land Co said Friday.Since 18 March, the two parks have been greeting guests in their in-park announcements with “hello, everyone” to be more inclusive in light of social situations. Announcements on some of the park attractions have also been changed to become gender neutral, with eventual plans to adopt the phrasing across all rides, the operator said.

The change was made in order for “all guests to continue enjoying their time” at the parks, an Oriental Land spokesperson said. Among other Japanese companies, Japan Airlines Co started using inclusive phrases in addressing passengers aboard planes and at airports in English from last October.

A new multilingual website has been launched with the aim of updating people’s image of Fukushima Prefecture, the area in northeastern Japan that was most affected by the 2011 nuclear accident, the world’s worst since the Chernobyl disaster in 1986.The Fukushima Updates website, available in Japanese, English, Chinese and Korean, has been set up to reassure people over various concerns they may have, such as the region’s radiation levels and food safety standards, through the delivery of correct information in the hope that viewers can “update” their perception of the prefecture as being unsafe.It was established in early March by Japan’s Reconstruction Agency, which oversees recovery from the devastating earthquake and tsunami that triggered the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

“Ten years have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake. In ongoing efforts to eliminate negative reputation impact, we feel it is important to encourage people to know about Fukushima, eat foods from Fukushima, and come to Fukushima,” the website says.It includes answers to frequently asked questions, infographics as well as cartoons. The content reflects surveys on Fukushima conducted in several countries prior to the launch that showed most people wanted to learn about food safety and the environment.The 23 most commonly asked questions include “Can people live in Fukushima?” and “How high are the radiation doses in Fukushima Prefecture?” The site says “normal life is possible” in most of Fukushima, which has a population of 1.82 million, except for 2.4% of the prefecture where evacuation orders are still in place due to the nuclear disaster.It also says radiation levels in the main cities of Fukushima Prefecture are “no different from those in Tokyo and other major cities around the world,” although they are relatively high in no-go zones.The safety of local food and fish is also emphasized and viewers can compare Japan’s safety standards with those of the European Union and the United States and learn about the recent results of radiation inspections. It also says the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Food and Agriculture Organization have assessed Japan’s monitoring methods as “appropriate.”

“People overseas have a strong impression of the immediate aftereffects of the Fukushima nuclear accident, and there is a gap with the present reality,” an official of the Reconstruction Agency said.Fifteen countries and regions, including China, South Korea and the United States still impose import restriction on food from Fukushima Prefecture, although that number is well below the 54 that originally did.

The website also explains about the difference in damage caused by the Fukushima nuclear accident and the Chernobyl disaster, saying the amount of radioactive substances released into the atmosphere was far less in the Japanese crisis, and there has been no impact on people’s health due to radiation exposure. Both accidents are ranked the highest 7 on an international scale of nuclear crisis severity level — the only two with that classification to date.

Update on the Netherlands

Fewer people were vaccinated than expected last week, partly because not enough people signed up, according to public health institute RIVM. On Monday it emerged that just 280,570 people were vaccinated last week, well below the 416,000 target.”There were enough vaccines, but not enough people who made an appointment for the injection,” said vaccination coordinator Jaap van Delden of the RIVM in an online catch-up session about vaccine stocks for journalists.

The exact causes are still being investigated, but Van Delden thinks it is partly in the possibility for people to schedule their injection appointment later. Yet far fewer agreements have been made by the target groups that have been invited so far.The problem now lies mainly with the vaccine from AstraZeneca, which is administered by the GGD and by general practitioners. Of the 100,000 spaces available for an AstraZeneca vaccine, only 36,000 slots were booked in the past week. He does not yet know whether this is partly because people do not want this specific vaccine.

According to the RIVM, there is also the possibility that GPs do not immediately schedule their appointments because they have to vaccinate in addition to their normal activities. What sometimes did not help either is the long waiting time at the call center for an injection appointment. People may have dropped out as a result, thinks Van Delden. “We therefore advise people to make an appointment online where possible for their vaccination.

“The outgoing Minister of Public Health, De Jonge, also acknowledges that the prognosis of the number of vaccinations last week was not entirely correct. The will to resume soon after AstraZeneca was discontinued was there. “The prognosis was too high, the realization too low” concludes De Jonge, who calls the practice “a little more unruly” than expected.According to De Jonge, the previously scheduled injections had to be rescheduled and it is not easy to say what exactly went wrong. The places for injections were in the agenda, but not all were filled. According to De Jonge, it is difficult to say why. Next week, the minister hopes that between 400,000 to 500,000 injections can be done, because “the third wave, we are in the middle of it”.

Van Delden expects that after an “ugly week” this week, the acceleration will still come, he says. On the corona dashboard of the government, there is now a number of 514,015 injections that are expected this week.

The first doses of the corona vaccine from Leiden pharmaceutical company Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) will be delivered to the European Union from 19 April, the company announced on Monday.The Netherlands expects nearly 170,000 Janssen vaccines next month: 84,750 in mid-April and the same amount again at the end of the month, Outgoing Health Minister Hugo de Jonge previously said. Janssen wants to deliver a total of three million vaccines to the Netherlands in the second quarter.

The Health Council recommended that Janssen’s vaccine should be administered first to elderly people over the age of sixty and to people with specific medical conditions – Down’s Syndrome, obesity, or neurological problems that can cause breathing difficulties..The vaccine received the green light from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) on 11 March as the fourth corona vaccine. Unlike the other coronavirus vaccines approved for use in the EU, the Janssen vaccine only requires one dose instead of two shots spread over a few weeks.

Twelve countries, including both Japan and the Netherlands, have called in a joint statement on Myanmar to end violence by the military against unarmed civilians. The statement, issued by the Pentagon, has been signed by the defense summits of several European countries, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea.The defense chiefs condemn the violence against the Myanmar population in the strictest terms. “A professional army follows international standards of conduct and protects the people it serves, rather than harming them,” they write.

The United Nations speaks of the “bloodiest day” since the army seized power in the Southeast Asian country in early February. Secretary General Guterres says he is “very shocked” by the recent violence. The UN rapporteur in Myanmar calls on the international community to isolate the military junta, including by halting oil and gas trade with the country. According to US Secretary of State Blinken, the coup plotters prove with the recent violence that they are “willing to sacrifice the lives of many to keep a few in the saddle”.

At least 114 people were killed in Myanmar last weekend, according to witnesses and local media, after security forces targeted demonstrators. Young children were also killed. The army leadership warned earlier that protesters would be shot in the head when participating in the protests against the military rulers.

The Netherlands and 22 other countries pledged support for an international pandemic treaty intended to improve pandemic preparedness and response. Outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte signed a call for the treaty on Tuesday, which should lead to improvements in pandemic preparedness and response, Nu.nl reports.The treaty’s goal is to improve international cooperation in the field of early warning systems, information exchange, and research. It also aims to strengthen the local, regional and worldwide production and distribution of vaccines, medicines, diagnostic tools, and personal protective gear.

The convention was proposed by World Health Organization (WHO) director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and EU President Charles Michel. The intention is that it will be anchored in the WHO Act of Establishment. “There will be another pandemic and other serious health crises. No government or multilateral body can deal with this threat alone,” the treaty states.

In addition to Rutte, the treaty was also signed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. The presidents of Indonesia, South Africa, and South Korea are also among the signatories. And more and more countries are supporting the plan, Michel said.The hope is that the treaty will build “a more robust international health architecture” to protect future generations. “The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us in a powerful way that no one is safe until everyone is safe,” the signatories said. “Our  weaknesses and our divisions have given COVID-19 free rein. So we must seize this opportunity to unite.”

The Netherlands national soccer team wore T-shirts displaying the words “Football supports change” on Saturday for the World Cup qualifier against Latvia. It formed a statement about human rights in World Cup host nation Qatar. The Dutch team followed Germany and Norway’s national squads in showing their support for the human rights of migrant workers helping to build infrastructure for the tournament set to take place in 2022.

Defender Matthijs de Ligt said ahead of their European Championship qualifying match against Latvia on Saturday that he and the rest of the Dutch team wanted to make a statement. “It’s a very difficult situation with workers’ rights there. It’s a sensitive topic, but we want to do something. Norway and Germany have already come up with a statement. We’re not the first, but it’s all about doing something. It doesn’t really matter when, as long as you do something,” de Ligt said.5000 spectators were present to watch the game in Amsterdam. They could enjoy the World Cup qualifying match between the Netherlands and Latvia – without distance and mask, as a part of one of the Fieldlab experiments.

The spectators had to be tested in advance and had to show the result upon entry. With these Fieldlab experiments, researchers hope to see how we can return to festivals, sports games and other events safely in the near future.

Starting mid-April, customers at Albert Heijn will be informed that there will soon be no more free plastic bags in the fresh produce section. They are replaced by nylon bags that can be reused.From 19 April, all customers will receive the reusable bags for the first two weeks for free with the purchase of fruit and vegetables that have to be weighed. After that they will cost 30 cents.The intention is that the free plastic bags will disappear from all stores by the end of this year. Albert Heijn recognizes that people will have to get used to it. But many customers already bring their own shopping bag when they come to the supermarket, says the supermarket group.

Cutting out plastic bags will save about 243 tons of plastic that would have gone to the production of 130 million bags annually. Albert Heijn´s general manager, Marit van Egmond, said the supermarket chain has already saved millions of kilos of packaging material in recent years. “We keep looking at whether it is possible to use less. From meal and lunch salads in a thinner bowl and thinner soft drink bottle to completely unpacked fruit and vegetables,” she said.

Other supermarkets have also put in effort to reduce the amount of plastic used. Jumbo, for example, recently announced that it would from now on put minced meat in a plastic bag instead of a plastic dish which would greatly limit how much plastic is needed for packaging. PLUS has also dropped the use of double plastic lids for nuts.

About 15% of the Dutch population currently has a subscription to a product that is delivered periodically. The number of these product subscriptions rose significantly in recent months amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Subscriptions to products related to nutrition and personal care are the most popular ones, RTL Nieuws reported based on a survey by Multiscope.

The nutrition and personal care product subscriptions together make up for almost half of all the subscriptions (both 24%). In this category, meal box companies such as HelloFresh, or razor blade companies such as Boldking, are popular choices. Other industries seeing an increase in product subscriptions are clothing (9%), drinks (7%) and flowers (7%) which form the middle group.

The significant growth in the number of product subscriptions is mostly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Almost 63% of these subscriptions were made in the past year, and 41%  in the last six months.For subscribers, the convenience of not having to go to the store is the main reason for taking out the subscription. That’s what 51% of those surveyed say. It is also nice not to have to think about the purchase (38%). Other mentioned reasons that are considered important are availability (28%), good quality (29%), an attractive price (23%) and the surprise effect (22%).

As of last weekend, the clock advanced one hour, prompting the change from winter to summer time in the Netherlands (CET –> CEST). Due to summer time, the night is an hour shorter and it is darker in the morning, but there will be more daylight in the evening.Earlier it was said that the six-monthly rescheduling of the clock would eventually come to an end. A majority of the European Parliament wanted to stop this year. The EU member states can decide for themselves whether to switch permanently to summer or winter time afterwards. However, parliament has passed a postponement clause to avoid creating a jumble of different times. The Member States have not yet taken a decision on it.

Daylight saving time was initiated to allow people to make more use of the available daylight. That could save on electric lighting. Opponents doubt that. Many people also say that they suffer from the shifting of time physically, because it disrupts the biological clock.

Daylight saving time has been in effect in the Netherlands since 1916, although different rules were applied since then. In fact, there was no daylight saving time at all from 1946 to 1976. Since 1996, summer time starts on the last weekend in March and returns to winter time on the last weekend in October, which is actually just the ‘standard’ time.

Many people will start enjoying the summer time immediately, with beautiful sunny spring weather coming up, However, those who go outside for more than half an hour are recommended to put on sunscreen, Weerplaza warned on Monday. After thirty minutes unprotected in the sun, there is a risk of sunburn.

Like in Japan, the cherry blossom (sakura) can be seen blooming in the Netherlands. Although many people have already taken a look at the currently emerging Cherry Blossom Park in the Amsterdamse Bos, extremely busy times have not been reached this weekend, according to AmstelveenZ.

The Amsterdam forest organization has taken various precautionary measures this year in consultation with the municipalities of Amsterdam and Amstelveen and various rules apply. For example, on Sunday there were traffic controllers and hosts on the access roads and a walking route has been set up.It is monitored whether too many people visit the park at the same time and whether they linger too long: a maximum of 150 visitors has been set. The new bamboo bridge that has been constructed between the park and the Poel only serves as an exit for the park: visitors are not allowed to enter the park via the bamboo bridge when it is busy.

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Jinn van Gastel
Project Manager at Dujat

DUJAT (Dutch and Japanese Trade Federation)

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Sources: Nu.nlNOSRTL NieuwsAmstelveenZJapanTodayNHKJapanTimesMainichi