Weekly Update: News on Japan & the Netherlands – Week 15, 2021
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Update on Japan
|Japan announced last week on Friday that it will raise the coronavirus alert level in Tokyo to allow tougher measures to curb the rapid spread of a more contagious variant ahead of the Summer Olympics.
The raised status announced by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will allow Tokyo’s governor to mandate shorter opening hours for bars and restaurants, along with punishments for violators and compensation for those who comply. The measures began on Monday 12 April and will continue through 11 May.
Many of Tokyo’s cases have been linked to nightlife and dining, though they have recently spread to offices, elderly care facilities and schools, experts say.
Suga also raised the alert level for Kyoto in western Japan and the southern island prefecture of Okinawa, where cases have surged in recent weeks. The new status there is to continue through 5 May, the end of Japan’s Golden Week holidays, to discourage traveling. “We will do everything to contain infections within the affected areas and prevent them from spreading across the country,” Suga told reporters.
The steps come less than three weeks after the emergency was lifted for Tokyo, underscoring the difficulty of balancing anti-virus measures and the economy. Suga’s government has been criticized for being too slow in enacting anti-virus measures out of a reluctance to further damage the pandemic-hit economy.
Osaka has declared a medical emergency after its hospitals became overwhelmed with new cases and has moved next week’s Olympic torch relay there off public roads.
|People in Japan aged 65 or older began receiving vaccinations on Monday in a rollout expected to take months. They represent almost one third of the entire population, but many are forced to wait with vaccination doses in short supply. About 36 million elderly people are slated to receive the dual-dose Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. They are second in line after healthcare workers, many of whom are still waiting for theirs.
Demand is far outstripping available supply. Hachioji City in western Tokyo has the capital’s largest elderly population of about 160,000. But the central government’s first allocation for the demographic was enough for just 1,900 people.
When the city office started receiving online reservations earlier this month, there were 3,700 hits per second from people trying to access the website. The slots were full in just 90 minutes.
Japan’s health ministry said that at least 1,100 seniors were given a coronavirus vaccine on the first day of the country’s inoculation program for the elderly. It came after about 1.12 million medical workers received at least one dose since February. Roughly 560,000 of them have already received their second shots.
The ministry plans to step up deliveries. It expects that municipalities will have enough doses by the end of June to give all seniors their second shots.
|The Japanese government has officially decided to release treated water from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant into the ocean. It will be discharged in about two years after being diluted. The Cabinet has endorsed a draft bill on the matter. Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide is promising transparency as the process moves forward.
Suga said on Tuesday, “This is a path that we cannot avoid in order to realize Fukushima’s regional reconstruction and decommission the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. We will execute it only after ensuring the process is safe. Negative rumors must not stand in the way, or extinguish the hopes of people in Fukushima for recovery. The government will put out information based on science. We will do the best we can. It’s all hands on deck.”
The decision comes a decade after a massive earthquake and tsunami hit northeastern Japan, triggering a triple meltdown at the power plant. Water is used to cool molten nuclear fuel. It’s mixing with rain and groundwater flowing into damaged reactor buildings, accumulating at a rate of 140 tons per day.
The facility has enough tanks to hold about 1.37 million tons of wastewater. But it’s already at 90% of capacity. The remainder is expected to fill up sometime next year. The water is treated in order to remove most of the radioactive material, but still contains radioactive tritium.
The concentration will be diluted to one-40th of what is required under national regulations. That’s equivalent to about one-seventh of the World Health Organization’s standard for drinking water.
The government will ask the plant’s operator, known by its acronym TEPCO, to secure equipment needed to release the treated water in about two years. The plan calls for cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency to disseminate transparent and objective information at home and abroad. It also pledges support for the local fishery, tourism and agricultural industries. If there is damage to the reputation of an industry, the plan calls for TEPCO to provide compensation.
TEPCO President Kobayakawa Tomoaki said, “We will work hard to fulfill our responsibility to strike a balance between regional reconstruction, and decommissioning the reactors throughout the lengthy decommissioning process.”
In Fukushima, reaction from residents is mixed. People in the fishing industry in particular have been strongly opposed to the plan. The head of a national industry group has released a statement protesting the decision and urging the government to clarify how it will alleviate safety concerns in Japan and abroad.
|Hideki Matsuyama’s victory at the Masters golf tournament last Sunday in Georgia was a feat 85 years in the making, as he became the first man from Japan to put on the green jacket. Matsuyama is also the first Japanese male player to capture the crown at any of the sport’s four Grand Slam major tournaments.
“I’m not sure whether I’m number one in Japan,” the 29-year-old said. “But the fact is, I did win at a major tournament where I haven’t won before. It used to be thought that a Japanese could not do it, but hopefully my victory will bring about a change among Japanese youths.”
Prime Minister Suga has praised golfer Matsuyama Hideki for becoming the first Japanese man to have won one of the world’s four major tournaments. Suga told reporters on Monday that the historic Masters win by Matsuyama must have given courage and moved people of Japan amid the prolonged coronavirus pandemic.
Mentioning that Matsuyama studied at a university in Tohoku region, northeastern Japan, Suga said the victory gives a morale boost to the region’s recovery from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
The prime minister said Matsuyama is not only the first Japanese but the first Asian to have won the Masters. He added that he expects that the 29-year-old will achieve much more, as he is still young.
|More Japanese lawmakers and businesses are throwing their support behind shorter workweeks to give families more time to take care of children and older family members, as well as to adapt to a world where remote work is increasingly common.
The government’s Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy covered the issue in a discussion Tuesday of measures to encourage the movement of workers into higher-growth fields. Shorter weeks will give employees more time to attend school to gain new knowledge and skills, the thinking goes.
This follows a draft proposal from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in January calling for three days off a week to be made widely available as an option for workers who want them. These moves are particularly notable in a country with a corporate culture that has traditionally focused more on time spent at work than results achieved.
The discussion is being driven by concern over a chronically shrinking workforce. Japan’s working-age population — those aged 15 to 64 — peaked in 1995 at about 87 million and is projected to fall to less than 70 million in 2030, making productivity-boosting measures essential to enable economic growth.
It is also a response to changes to employment brought by the coronavirus pandemic, particularly the rise in telecommuting, that allow for work to be less strictly bound to particular times and places.
Some Japanese companies have already begun taking steps in this direction, for example Mizuho Financial Group in December began giving employees at five group companies, including the core Mizuho Bank, the option to work three or four days a week at proportionally reduced pay. The policy, which covers about 45,000 people, aims to offer workers more flexibility to care for family members or go to graduate school, for instance.
The point is not necessarily to give workers more time off, but to improve productivity and work-life balance.
|Kansai Medical University in Osaka Prefecture will establish the world’s first research institute focusing on a new cancer treatment called photoimmunotherapy in April 2022.
Dr. Kobayashi Hisataka, a senior investigator at the U.S. National Institutes of Health who developed photoimmunotherapy, will become the head of the institute in western Japan. He told reporters on Monday that the therapy could be first applied to patients with breast cancer, as well as facial and neck cancers, in the hope of providing a new option for a variety of cancer patients.
In photoimmunotherapy, which is billed as a fifth cancer treatment, alongside surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and immunotherapy, the patient is given a special drug that binds to specific cancer cells, and then those cells are destroyed when the drug reacts to near-infrared laser light.
The new treatment was invented by Kobayashi and developed by the predecessor of Rakuten Medical, a U.S. unit of Japanese internet giant Rakuten Group, which obtained a patent license. The therapy drew attention when then-U.S. President Barack Obama referred to it in his State of the Union address in 2012.
According to a clinical trial conducted in the U.S. by Rakuten Medical, cancer either disappeared or shrank in 13 out of 30 head and neck cancer patients for whom no conventional treatment had worked, a success rate of 43%.
Last September, Rakuten Medical Japan became the world’s first company to obtain a manufacturing and distribution license in Japan. The therapy is approved only in Japan. As of mid-March, photoimmunotherapy had been introduced at nearly 20 hospitals nationwide, including the National Cancer Center Hospital East in Chiba Prefecture and Aichi Cancer Center Hospital in Aichi Prefecture.
“We want to provide support for the development of cancer treatment as much as possible,” said a Rakuten Medical Japan representative. To improve the efficacy of the treatment, the company will partner with Kansai Medical University’s clinical department to check on patients’ cancer tissues.
Update on the Netherlands
|On Tuesday 13 April, Outgoing Prime Minister Rutte and Outgoing Minister of Health De Jonge gave an update about the current corona situation in the Netherlands, during a press conference. They presented a step-by-step plan for reopening society. “Society can open in a responsible manner. We take small steps in the beginning and bigger steps when the most vulnerable groups are vaccinated,” said Rutte.
Unfortunately, this can not start yet as of Wednesday next week, since the hospitals are still under too much pressure. Outgoing Prime Minister Rutte finds it “unfortunate” that it was leaked last week that the cabinet wanted to implement a number of relaxations on 21 April, such as the end of the curfew and the opening of the terraces.
“We hoped it could be done, but it had to be justified,” said Rutte. He apologized to citizens and entrepreneurs who were already making plans based on that leaked message. The cabinet now wants the announced relaxation to take effect a week later, on 28 April. But then the contamination figures must allow that.
In the ‘opening plan’ presented by the cabinet, the date of 28 April is mentioned for the first relaxation, but according to Rutte this is not yet a fixed date. “We will decide next week whether it is possible, and if it is not possible, we will not do it,” said Rutte. The cabinet then hopes to reopen the terraces and lift the curfew.
|The first batch of corona vaccines developed in Leiden by Janssen, a pharmaceutical firm owned by Johnson and Johnson, arrived at a warehouse in Oss on Monday. The cabinet already announced that 35,000 doses will be allocated to hospital workers which have been facing high levels of sick leave. The RIVM told RTL Nieuws yesterday that the vaccine will be used for the first time in the Netherlands at the end of this week.
Janssen is the fourth corona vaccine available in the Netherlands. The vaccines from AstraZeneca, Pfizer / BioNTech and Moderna are already being used. The vast majority of people in the Netherlands have been vaccinated with the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine.
On Tuesday 13 April, The New York Times reported that the United States will temporarily stop using the Janssen corona vaccine from pharmaceutical company Janssen, based on US government sources. After about 7 million doses of the vaccine had been administered, 6 women had developed a rare combination of blood-clotting disorder, which can be dangerous, and potentially fatal if they block blood flow to the brain or lungs, and a counter-intuitive deficiency of cell fragments called platelets that promote clotting.
The clots also appeared in unusual parts of the body, such as the brain and abdomen, rather than in the legs, where most deep-vein blood clots form. platelet deficiency. Whether these complaints actually arose from the vaccine is still under investigation.
So far this is about one suspicious report per 1.17 million injections. All 6 reporters with the blood clots are women between the ages of 18 and 48. One of the women has died of the disease and a second woman is in critical condition, officials told the American newspaper.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will work together to find out whether the health problems are really caused by the vaccine. It will then be determined whether the vaccine can be used again for all adults, or whether, for example, certain groups should be excluded. It is still unclear when more will be known.
Johnson & Johnson, Janssen’s parent company, said in a response that it is aware of the cases. “We are aware that these side effects have been reported with COVID-19 vaccines. As a response, they are postponing further roll-out of that vaccine in Europe. The company does this as a precaution because of reports about a possible side effect.
According to Minister De Jonge, Janssen’s decision to temporarily suspend the supply of their vaccine in Europe is raising “new questions”. “These cannot be answered today. The effect of that decision will have to become apparent in the time to come,” he said at Tuesday’s corona press conference. The RIVM assumes that Janssen can be used as standard vaccine from next Thursday. The Netherlands now has about 80,000 doses.
|Since the corona ‘self-tests’ are available at the pharmacy, at least 200,000 of them have been sold. That says chairman Aris Prins of the KNMP pharmacy organization in the AD . According to him, there has been a run on the self-tests and it has been extremely busy since 31 March, when sales started. “Some people immediately buy four or five, for the whole family,” says Prins.
Experts are concerned about the corona self tests because they are less accurate and thus cannot be used as a substitute for the PCR test used by the GGD. Members of the Outbreak Management Team are concerned that people will disregard the 1.5 meter rule if the quick test indicates that they do not have corona.
Medical microbiologist and OMT member Marc Bonten of the UMC Utrecht told the AD that a negative result of the rapid test means nothing, because of the inaccuracy. KNMP chairman Prins acknowledges that a negative test does not provide certainty.
“If you do that self-test, the reliability of a negative result is about 85%,” says Prins in the newspaper. “That means that out of a hundred people who take the test, fifteen may still be positive. So always follow the corona rules.”
The reduced reliability is due to the fact that the tests are less sensitive than the PCR tests that are conducted at the GGD. And if you have just been infected, you do not carry a lot of virus with you yet.
But the PCR test also does not ‘catch’ very recent infections, said physician-microbiologist Jan Kluytmans. “The period in which an infected person does test positive with a PCR test, and not with a self-test, is relatively short, rather a few hours than days.”
According to the RIVM, self-tests are intended to detect infections earlier, in people who do not have corona complaints. According to the government, they provide “more safety” for people who go to school or work.
It is not the intention that people who do have corona complaints go to the pharmacy for such a quick self-test. They are expected to report to the GGD for a more reliable test, just like people who return from a high-risk area or have been around someone with corona for a longer period of time.
|On Monday 12 April, the first ‘corona test flight’ took off from Schiphol to the Greek island of Rhodes, as an experiment to see if corona-proof holidays can be organized during the pandemic. On board of the test flight were 189 Dutch tourists, on their way for an 8-day vacation experiment.
The all-inclusive package trip to Rhodes is carried out by Sunweb and Transavia, and should help travel organizations learn whether it is possible to organize holidays with virus restrictions. The 189 lucky vacationers selected for the trip will spend their vacation ‘in a bubble’ for the next week. They are housed in a hermetically sealed resort where they are not allowed to leave and where there are no other holiday guests. The vacationers are constantly tested and have to fill out questionnaires regularly.
Anyone who will board the Transavia Boeing 737 has already been tested twice. The ultimate goal: to be able to enjoy a safe holiday. “It’s a beautiful day,” says Marcel de Nooijer, Transavia CEO. “It is the first step towards recovery, which not only we as a company, but which the whole of the Netherlands has been looking forward to for a long time.
One passenger was revealed to have tested positive before the plane took off and was replaced by a person from the reserve list. Anyone who tests positive during the holiday will be moved to a separate hotel where they will quarantine under Greek lockdown rules.
For those unable to escape to Greece, tickets went on sale on Monday for a number of zoos which are opening this week in another ‘corona-proof’ experiment. Amsterdam zoo Artis’s website crashed shortly after sales opened at 10:00 as it was overwhelmed by demand for the three test days. Other zoos and also amusement parks like Efteling will participate in the experiment.
It is said that the Cabinet is considering making a negative coronavirus test or a COVID-19 vaccination certificate a mandatory requirement to access museums, zoos and amusement parks when they are allowed to reopen, according to sources that informed BNR. This would be separate to the trial events currently underway to determine how sectors can safely emerge from the lockdown without causing a spike in new virus infections.
All of them require the attendees to present negative COVID-19 tests upon entering. This can be shown with the new Coronacheck app with which people generate a unique QR code indicating if they have recently been tested negative or if they have been vaccinated.
|Driving lessons and exams have to change significantly, according to a draft report from the committee that researched the Dutch driving school industry. The report will not be published until Wednesday, but RTL Nieuws already acquired the documents of the Roemer committee.
They report that the researchers argue for multiple theoretical and practical tests to obtain a driver’s license. They also want stricter requirements for instructors and driving schools, and they argue for a new inspection that checks whether driving lessons have the desired quality.
If the government adopts the recommendations, students will lose more money, according to RTL. This has a number of causes. For example, driving schools will probably disappear, so that those who remain can ask for more money. Driving instructors must also follow training courses to comply with the stricter requirements.
Last year, former SP leader Emile Roemer received a request from Minister Van Nieuwenhuizen to investigate the quality of the driving school sector. According to the ministry, there have been increasing signs of abuse in the sector in recent years. For example about bad financial policy, fraud by driving schools during exams and incorrectly informing consumers about pass rates.
Roemer’s report will be presented to the minister on Wednesday. The parties involved do not want to comment on the results before then.
|The Dutch cabinet is prepared to allocate a maximum of 1.5 billion euros for a potential expansion of the Amsterdam North / South metro line. Outgoing ministers Bas van ‘t Wout (Economic Affairs and Climate) and Wopke Hoekstra (Finance) announced this on Friday.
This involves extending the North / South line metro route from Amsterdam Zuid station to Schiphol and Hoofddorp and closing the metro ring from Isolatorweg to Amsterdam Central station. The 1.5 billion euros is half of the amount needed for the project.
At the end of last year, the Transport Region, the municipality of Amsterdam, the municipality of Haarlemmermeer, the province of North Holland, KLM, NS and Schiphol already announced that they were prepared to spend approximately 1 billion euros on extending the North / South line towards Schiphol and Hoofddorp and the closing of the Ring Line.
Before the money from the cabinet becomes available, the plan must be further substantiated. Since the entire project would cost about 3 billion euros, it seems that another 500 million euros is needed. If the project continues, travelers could come to the city by metro from Schiphol around 2030.
Update on Dujat & Members
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Jinn van Gastel
Project Manager at Dujat
DUJAT (Dutch and Japanese Trade Federation)
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