Weekly Update: News on Japan & the Netherlands – Week 16, 2021

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Update on Japan

The Japanese government may be edging closer to declaring another state of emergency, based on a request from the western prefecture of Osaka.

The number of infections increased there in recent weeks partly due to more contagious variants. Officials in the prefecture reported 719 new infections on Monday 19 April, which was a record for that day of the week.

Local health authorities are asking hospitals to secure more beds amid a shortage. The central government is also sending 90 nurses to help ease the strain on the medical system. Osaka officials have decided to ask the central government to declare a state of emergency for the prefecture so they can further restrict the movement of people.

The declaration would entail stronger anti-virus measures such as store closures than the currently existing quasi-emergency steps, which include requests for restaurants and bars to cut operating hours.

Osaka Mayor Matsui Ichiro has said classes at the city’s elementary and junior high schools will be basically conducted online once the fresh emergency is declared. Schools, department stores and amusement parks were all closed under the initial emergency declaration made in April last year, but not the second, which was issued in January this year.

Tokyo Gov. Koike Yuriko has also hinted at the possibility of asking the central government to declare yet another state of emergency over the coronavirus pandemic. The governor said on Sunday that she has instructed metropolitan government officials to respond to a renewed rise in the number of COVID-19 cases in Tokyo with a sense of speed and with an eye to the possible request for a new emergency declaration.

Nikkei Asia reports that an economical impact can already be seen as shares in transportation and retail companies in Tokyo weakened on Monday. Companies that have a big presence in Osaka and its surrounding areas were especially hit hard as investors fear a decrease in demand during the upcoming Golden Week.

Japan tightened its rules on COVID-19 test certificates for travelers, which need to be submitted by all passengers upon arrival at Japanese airports, with those failing to meet required conditions to be denied entry into the country in principle.

Since March, Japan had been asking airlines to deny boarding of passengers without negative coronavirus testing results taken within 72 hours of departure.

However, until Sunday the country’s quarantine authorities still allowed those who had come to Japan with insufficient certificates to stay at a designated facility and retake a coronavirus test after three days. The authorities said such alternative treatment will no longer be available, as the country reels from surging infections

To enter Japan, a passenger needs to obtain a certificate that proves negative results for the virus based on nasopharyngeal or saliva samples, which need to be taken within 72 hours before departure. Japan does not approve antigen or antibody tests as certificates for entering the country.

Given the spread of the virus, Japan currently only allows entry of Japanese nationals and resident foreigners as well as foreigners “with special exceptional circumstances.” Japan is also requesting domestic and foreign airlines to restrict the number of passengers planning to enter the country.

Japan expects to procure enough vaccines for all eligible by the end of September. Japan’s vaccine minister Kono Taro said this during a TV program on Sunday, stating that Pfizer Inc will increase supply of its coronavirus vaccine.

Kono said Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide has effectively reached agreement with US pharmaceutical firm Pfizer for additional vaccine supplies. Suga asked for more doses when he spoke by phone with Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla during his visit to Washington.

He also suggested the government will be able to provide enough doses to cover all eligible people by the end of September. Japan’s rollout currently targets the population aged 16 or older. Kono also thinks that like in the US, they will consider allowing the use of the vaccine for children aged 12 to 15, adding that the Japanese government will ask experts to discuss the matter.

So far, Japan’s vaccination progress has been far behind other countries, including the U.S. and the U.K. The country’s vaccination program for nonmedical workers started this week for those over the age of 65.

In collaboration with local governments, Japan’s private sector is doing its part as well to speed up the country’s vaccine rollout, providing support for municipal authorities and hoping for new revenue streams in the process.

For example, Nippon Travel Agency has set up call centers, supported operations at vaccination sites and provided an online booking system developed by the reservation service operator MRSO.

Another company in the tourism sector, Kokusai Kogyo, announced in March that it could lend buses to municipal governments for the vaccination program. The buses could be used to transport elderly vaccine recipients or medical staffers, or as mobile vaccination sites. The company also offers to dispatch tour guides to help operations at vaccination sites, such as with helping visitors fill out forms.

Japan seeks release of journalist held in Myanmar, who was taken into custody by security forces.  Kitazumi Yuki, a former Nikkei business newspaper reporter currently based in Yangon as a freelance journalist, was detained at his apartment on Sunday after about 50 security personnel surrounded the building.

The Japanese Embassy in Myanmar has lodged a protest against the detention. Officials at embassy learned from local police that Kitazumi was imprisoned in Yangon for allegedly spreading misinformation. He could face up to three years in prison if convicted.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato Katsunobu told reporters that his government is asking Myanmar authorities to explain the arrest and release him as soon as possible. “We will continue asking the Myanmar side for his early release, while doing our utmost for the protection of Japanese citizens in that country,” Kato said.

Based on the criminal law revised after the coup, the Myanmar military has been taking into custody journalists and high-profile persons for spreading misinformation and other charges. They could face up to three years in prison if convicted. Police said Kitazumi, who is imprisoned in Yangon, is not injured.

The embassy officials are demanding that they be allowed to visit him in prison and that he be released. They say the military has not complied so far.

Japanese beverage makers plan to recycle half of the plastic bottles back into new ones, as part of an initiative to cut greenhouse gases over the coming decade. The Japan Soft Drink Association announced the target on Monday.

Most of the plastic bottles currently recycled are turned into food containers and fiber. Overall, about 85% of plastic bottles are collected and recycled in Japan. But the association says that in 2019 only 12.5% of those were used to make new ones. It wants to increase that to 50% by 2030, reducing the need for raw materials.

Major beverage maker Kirin Holdings is developing the technology to vastly expand the recycling of old bottles into new ones. Suntory Holdings has entered into partnerships with several local governments to recycle 100% of their plastic bottles.

NHK also reported that major Japanese convenience store chains are switching to paper containers as they try to reduce plastic waste, while reports also appeared of Japanese company Kaijurishi developed the world’s first foldable disposable paper razor, as an initiative to eliminate unnecessary plastic use in manufacturing with a more eco-friendly and SDG (Sustainable Development Goal) based approach.

As part of that initiative, particularly in the form of single use plastics seen in disposable shaving razors, Kaijurishi’s Paper Razor features a paper handle that can be folded into place like origami and held with protective tape, and a metal razor blade, resulting in a paper razor that is 98% plastic free.

Because the paper razor is foldable, it comes completely flat in its packaging, making it very convenient for travel. The product will launch on 22 April, which is Earth Day, and will be on sale for 1,100 yen in the store, as well as their online store.

Sompo Japan Insurance Inc has launched policies to cover people who take so-called “workations,” permitting companies to allow their staff to combine work and pleasure while ensuring they are protected against various mishaps.

The policies, which went on sale earlier this month, consist of two products: one for small and medium-sized companies, and the other for individual customers that have become much more relevant as the coronavirus pandemic changes the way people work. They cover medical expenses for injuries, repair costs for personal computers and theft while workers are away from home.

The government has been promoting the workation concept in the hope it will revitalize local economies hit hard by the pandemic. Some local governments have been luring workationers by setting up special organizations to promote and communicate the benefits their regions have to offer.

However many companies are reluctant to introduce the practice due to difficulties in managing labor issues and handling complications. The major Japanese insurer said it developed the policies to address these problems.

The insurance for small and medium-sized companies covers repair costs for personal computers loaned by firms to their employees, for any loss of data or programs on the computers and medical expenses for the treatment of any injuries sustained by employees at workation destinations.

The premiums for corporate customers vary depending on the type of business and the companies’ sales figures. The individual insurance cover, meanwhile, includes medical expenses for all injuries and damage from theft. The premium for individuals is just 500 yen per trip.

Update on the Netherlands

Press conference on Tuesday 20 April.

Re-opening of outdoor terraces, the curfew ends and up to 2 guests can be welcomed at home: on Tuesday 20 April Outgoing Prime Minister Rutte and Minister De Jonge of Public Health announced several relaxations of the corona measures in the Netherlands.

“We dare to take the first cautious steps,” said Rutte at the start of the corona press conference. “It cannot be done without risks, but the risks must be justified.” He lists six relaxations from 28 April:

1. The curfew ends on 28 April at 4:30 am.
2. The urgent home visit advice goes from one to two people.
3. Outdoor terraces may open from 12:00 to 18:00.
4. An appointment in non-essential shops is no longer necessary
5. Students in higher education can attend physical education 1 day a week.
6. The maximum number of attendees at a funeral will go to 100, and theoretical driving exams will be possible again.

He highlights that the former rules will still apply, such as a maximum of two people per table on the terraces, unless they form one household, 1.5 meters between the tables unless there is a cough screen, and a health check-up before accessing the restaurant.

“I understand that the hospitality industry had hoped for more,” said Rutte. “It is an incredibly difficult time for them and we are not completely removing the problems with this first small step. But it is a first step.”

He emphasized that the next step is to look again at how the catering industry can open up further. The entire country cannot open up in one go, he says, which means that unfortunately museums, theaters, and more businesses will have to wait until further relaxations can take place.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) believes the benefits of the Janssen vaccine outweigh a rare serious side effect. 

“The reported combination of blood clots and low blood platelets is very rare, and the overall benefits of COVID-19 Vaccine Janssen in preventing the virus outweigh the risks of side effects,” the EMA said in a statement on Tuesday.

The EMA noted that over seven million people in the United States received the Janssen Vaccine, and eight cases of this rare form of thrombosis are known. In all cases it concerned persons under the age of 60. Of the eight people who developed this disease, the majority were women. The EMA was unable to determine whether women are actually more at risk for this side effect.

This is positive news, said Minister de Jonge, it means that the vaccine can be used as planned and they will start tomorrow in the Netherlands.

14 million coronavirus self-tests are on their way to Dutch schools. Starting Tuesday 20 April, primary and secondary schools will be carrying out self-tests to help detect corona infections amongst teachers and other education staff at an early stage.

The tests complement existing measures in schools, such as keeping your distance and washing hands. Health Minister Hugo de Jonge announced the planned distribution of self-tests in schools in a statement to Parliament last week.

Their goal is that within two weeks, all schools will have two-week test supply of self-tests. Up to the summer holidays, a total of 14 million self-tests will be delivered. Teaching staff can use this to preventively test themselves twice a week.

Education personnel are not required to use the self-tests. But outgoing Minister Slob says that many schools are willing to cooperate. “Everyone realizes: if we do this together, we will ensure that any infections are isolated and that the rest can simply go to school”, he said in the NOS Radio 1 Journaal. Slob relies on recent experiments with self-tests at a few schools.

The intention is that employees who test positive are quarantined and make an appointment with the GGD for a regular PCR test. Education staff has priority in the GGD test street.

Initially, the self-tests are intended for teachers and other teaching staff. But if an infection is known at school, then students who, for example, have been in the same room can also take a self-test. This is done in consultation with the parents. Students and staff who, according to the GGD, have been in close contact with the infected person, must immediately be quarantined and have themselves tested at the GGD.

The General Education Union (AOb) is happy with the self-tests in education, but emphasizes that it is not the most important solution. “It can have a preventive effect, but of course we cannot let go of the existing measures. If you want to have real certainty, then we really need vaccines.”

The city of Breda has put an end to the biggest Fieldlab test event which was scheduled to take place next Saturday. Radio 538’s King’s Day ‘Oranjedag’ test festival was supposed to welcome 10,000 guests at Chasséveld in Breda, much to the dismay of the nearby Amphia Hospital, the police unions and more than 350,000 of people who signed a petition against the festival.

At the same time, over 1.2 million tickets were requested, and auctions even took place where tickets were sold for thousands of euros.

The Breda city council has decided not to give a permit for the controversial event. “The police said they were concerned about the signals they received”, mayor Paul Depla of Breda told NU.nl. “This could mean that on Saturday, 24 April, such a situation would arise that very many different groups with different intentions would come to the city.”

According to the police of Breda, there were talks of announced and unannounced demonstrations and protests. The police therefore gave a negative advice to the mayor.

Fieldlab test events have been held before, such as the presentation of the 3FM Awards and a festival in Biddinghuizen, and more events are scheduled.

According to State Secretary Mona Keijzer of Economic Affairs, these types of events are important. “It is crucial to investigate whether the preventive measures are just as effective at higher visitor numbers,” she said earlier. “This seems like a big party, but this investigation is deadly serious.”

Even after the cancellation of the Radio 538 event, Mayor Depla says he is still open to participation in Fieldlab event. “Because we want to learn in practice how we can safely investigate what can be done safely in a time of corona.”

More money needs to be invested in fight against cybercrime, concludes the Dutch police in a report. In many areas, registered crime decreased in the first quarter this year, but digital crime increased sharply.

Particularly, striking is the rise in fraud and hacking cases via WhatsApp. Oftentimes, a criminal pretends to be an acquittance of the victim who is in dire need of money.

In absolute numbers, fraud involving individual swindling of citizens increased enormously: from 25,500 cases registered in the first quarter of last year, against 37,000 cases in the first quarter of this year. That’s an increase of 45%.

The number of cybercrime cases, such as ransomware and DDOS attacks, also increased. Last year, this was 2,000 cases in the first quarter, against more than 3,800 cases this year. That is almost twice as much.

The police says the increase is partly due to the corona crisis. “People are more online and make online purchases more often,” says Theo van der Plas, the officer responsible for fighting cybercrime. It is not new that there is more cybercrime, he says. “But the increase was usually more modest, around 25%. This is a major setback.”

Van der Plas believes that the police should receive more money to track down digital crime, around 300 million euros. The extra funding would help with providing police with the basic training to combat online crime. Among other things, highly trained detectives should be added. “By 2025, some additional 460 additional positions will be required for this.”

In addition, he would like to see it becoming more difficult to stay under the radar. “Anyone can now buy an anonymous SIM card and stay under the radar,” he says. “The chances of being caught on the internet are much smaller than in the physical world, so you now see that some criminals are making the switch.”

Last week, the Cyber ​​Security Council already issued a warning that the police can barely handle all hacking attacks because many companies do not have their security in order. The consequence of poor security is that the police are overwhelmed with cyber cases.

Even though the number of detectives dealing with internet crime has expanded considerably in recent years, the knowledge and capacity in this area is still limited at the police and the Public Prosecution Service.

Update on Dujat & Members

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.nlNOSJapanTodayNHKNikkei Asia