Weekly Update: News on Japan & the Netherlands – Week 17, 2020

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Update on Japan

  • The total number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in Japan stood at 11,512 on the morning of Wednesday 22 April, health officials said, with a total of 281 people who lost their lives as a result of the disease.
  • Hospitals in Japan are increasingly turning away sick people as they struggle with the surging number of coronavirus infections, and a collapsing emergency medical system.The Japanese Association for Acute Medicine and the Japanese Society for Emergency Medicine say that many emergency rooms are refusing to treat people, including those hit by strokes, heart attacks and external injuries.The outbreak has highlighted underlying weaknesses in medical care in Japan, which has long been praised for its high-quality insurance system and reasonable costs. Apart from a general unwillingness to embrace social distancing, experts fault government incompetence and a widespread shortage of personal protective gear and equipment that medical workers need to do their jobs.
  • Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed his concern to the press at his office on Tuesday 21 April, stating that people have not been social distancing as much as they are supposed to under the state of emergency he declared two weeks ago to fight the coronavirus pandemic.Abe previously requested people to reduce social interactions by 80% to slow infections to manageable levels, but surveys show people are moving around too much, especially at train stations and in downtown areas where restaurants and grocery stores are still operating. He said that hospitals are overburdened already and that infections must be slowed.Abe has been criticized as being too slow and lax in his handling of the virus. Last week he expanded his state of emergency, which was initially limited to Tokyo and six urban areas, to all of Japan to prevent people from moving out of town as the nation approaches its extended Golden Week holidays later this month.

    His government was also seen reluctant to issue requests for non-essential business closures due to fears over the economic impact. Only Tokyo and several other prefectures have made business closure requests, which carry no penalties.

  • About 2 million face masks donated by Taiwan arrived in Japan on Tuesday 21 April for delivery to public hospitals and special schools across the country in its fight against the coronavirus pandemic.The move came after the Taiwanese government responded to a request from a cross-party group of lawmakers aimed at fostering friendly relations between Japan and Taiwan. “We’d like to again express our sincere gratitude to the warm cheers and support from Taiwan,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a press conference.”We will continue boosting our cooperation with related countries and regions against the new coronavirus, which is a threat to all humankind,” the top government spokesman said.

    Representatives from both Japan and Taiwan were present on the tarmac at Narita airport as they watched the masks being carried out of an aircraft.

    Taiwan at one point lacked masks but has since achieved a daily production of 15 million masks and succeeded in meeting domestic demand after its government asked the private sector to increase mask production.

    Taiwan has also donated 10 million face masks to the United States, European nations and diplomatic allies earlier this month. Taiwan had six deaths and 420 infected as of last Sunday.

  • Despite the warnings in Japan to reduce contact en prevent the virus from spreading, restaurants that want to stay open are allowed to do so, and not just for take-out orders. In-restaurant dining has yet to be legally restricted by the Japanese government.However, McDonald’s Japan is now taking it upon itself to take measures at a number of its locations. On Monday, 1,910 of the chain’s restaurants ceased offering eat-in service and will only be providing meals to-go or via home delivery orders.Prior to the new policy, McDonald’s had restricted in-restaurant dining at certain branches between the hours of 8 p.m. and 5 a.m., and had also closed certain branches entirely in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

    While the no-eat-in rule doesn’t apply to all of the roughly 2,900 branches the chain has in Japan, it does affect the majority of them. Eat-in service is to be suspended at the branches through at least 6 May, which means customers cannot dine at the restaurants for the official duration of Japan’s Golden Week spring holiday.

    Meanwhile, the Uber Eats food delivery service saw in March a 20% increase in the number of restaurant contracts in Japan from a month earlier, its operator said on Tuesday 21 April.

    As of the end of March, restaurants using Uber Eats topped 20,000, which was about 17,000 a month earlier, the Japanese arm of U.S. ride-hailing company Uber Technologies Inc. said.

  • Confusion emerged on Tuesday 21 April over who will shoulder the additional costs for the postponed Tokyo Olympics after the International Olympic Committee said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe committed Japan to cover the amount while the top government spokesman denied any agreement.In a question-and-answer post on its website Monday, the IOC said Abe has “agreed that Japan will continue to cover the costs it would have done under the terms of the existing agreement for 2020, and the IOC will continue to be responsible for its share of the costs.”“For the IOC, it is already clear that this amounts to several hundred millions of dollars of additional costs,” it states. The postponement is projected to add approximately ¥300 billion ($2.7 billion) to the games’ price tag.

    Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga on Tuesday disputed the IOC’s statement, saying Abe has not agreed that Japan will foot any additional costs. “There is no such agreement,” he told reporters during his daily briefing.

    Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike also commented: “We are looking into how the Japanese government, Tokyo Metropolitan Government and organizers will handle the added cost.”

    As a result of the confusion regarding the costs, Tokyo spokesman Masa Takaya said the organizing committee asked the Switzerland-based International Olympic Committee to remove the comment mentioning Abe agreed to cover the costs.

    After Tokyo’s complaint, the IOC removed Abe’s name and any reference to Japan’s financial obligation. The edited version reads: “The Japanese government has reiterated that it stands ready to fulfill its responsibility for hosting successful games.”

    Without using Abe’s name, IOC President Thomas Bach said almost exactly the same thing 10 days ago in an interview with the German newspaper Die Welt on Sunday. He said Japan would “continue to cover the costs it would have done” under the agreement signed in 2013.

    Abe’s spokesman, Yoshihide Suga, also challenged the IOC and said Tuesday there “is no such agreement related to additional cost stemming from the postponement.”

    Despite the conflict, there is not much debate about who will pay; it’s the Japanese side, but it’s also a sensitive subject, particularly for Abe during an economic downturn brought on by the spreading virus.

Update on the Netherlands

  • The total number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the Netherlands stood at 34,134 on the morning of Wednesday 22 April, health officials said, with a total of 3,916 people who lost their lives as a result of the disease.
  • On Tuesday 21 April, Prime Minister Mark Rutte told at a press conference that the Netherlands will start reopening primary schools and daycare centres from 11 May, since research results show that children are less likely to develop serious symptoms of the virus or pass it on to adults.Children under 12 years old will also be allowed to participate in team sports again without keeping distance, and children from 12 to 18 years old can resume their team sport training, if the type of sport allows the 1.5 meter distance, and only unofficial games and matches. Organizing games where parents come to watch and people gather is not yet allowed.At the press conference, Rutte also announced that the ban on organized events will be extended until 1 September, and all other social distancing measures will be extended until 20 May.
  • The strongest response to the press conference comes from the business community. VNO-NCW (Confederation of Netherlands Industry and Employers) and MKB Nederland (The Royal Association for Entrepreneurs) say ‘that the frustrations are growing among their supporters’. There is insufficient recognition for the harrowing economic problems in which entrepreneurs have ended up. May 20 feels like light years away.”Our members and we have worked hard on protocols to do responsible business,” said chairman Hans de Boer of VNO-NCW. “This is not rewarded by the Dutch Cabinet and that is a pity. This is an additional reason for a second package of emergency measures. The cabinet must also demonstrate by means of concrete examples of investments in housing construction, infrastructure and technology that it wants to create an economic perspective. Otherwise, the government will lose the confidence of the entrepreneurs and it will be very difficult to recover economically later on.”Jacco Vonhof, chairman MKB-Nederland, emphasizes that even if the companies are allowed to open again in ‘a 1.5 meter economy’, a lot of loss will be suffered. “We need to focus on what is possible, because people need perspective. Otherwise it will also go the wrong way socially.”

    One industry that was completely wiped off the map yesterday up to September is the events industry (no Pinkpop, Lowlands, Gay Pride, Nijmegen Four Days Marches, and so on). Willem Westermann of VVEM (Association of Event Makers) is ‘not surprised, but very disappointed’. “It is a huge blow. We also hope for the support of the government, because it is clear that we are at the back when society is restarted. ”

    Due to a direct threat to 48,000 jobs and an estimated loss of turnover of 3.5 billion euros, the question is whether the entrepreneurs can make it to 2021 to organize festivals and concerts again, the Association warns.

    Among the businesses that hoped for relaxation of the rules are also the catering industry, gyms and hairdressers. According to KHN (Royal Dutch Hotel and Catering Association), there is a concrete protocol with the Ministry of Economic Affairs, with which catering entrepreneurs can still manage in the 1.5 meter economy.

    “We are waiting for an answer and will continue to prepare very hard for the day when the measures will be relaxed.”

    Hairdressers also thought of ways to continue business, using plexiglass walls, gloves and face masks. They think it is strange that for example dentists can operate using similar methods, and wonder if the hairdressers do not have the government’s trust they can do the same.

    There were also rumors that zoos and museums could open again under strict conditions. Unfortunately this does not seem to be the case yet. “All we can do is send a signal that we are ready,” says Lisette de Ruigh of the Dutch Association of Zoos.

  • The first few people who are awaiting treatment for non-coronavirus related health problems may finally expect a notification from this week, says Ernst Kuipers, chairman of the National Network Acute Care (LNAZ), on Monday 20 April.People in most urgent need of treatment will have priority, and a list of diagnoses has been published by the The Dutch Healthcare Authority (NZa) to help determine which cases have the highest priority.Family doctors have made 360,000 fewer referrals to hospitals since the government first brought in measures to stem the spread of coronavirus on 12 March, the national health council NZa said on Monday. In addition, a further hospital 290,500 appointments which had been scheduled were cancelled as the focus turned to tracing and treating people who had become infected with coronavirus, the NZa said. The number of urgent referrals has also gone down.

    To make sure that there is enough room in hospitals for regular care, the policy of spreading coronavirus patients nationwide will continue, officials say. In addition, intensive care units are still operating at 180% of capacity and that too has to be taken into account. ‘The interests of other patients who need care, the carers who want to help them and the coronavirus care that is ongoing, will be in direct competition,’ one doctor told the Volkskrant. The decision to re-start other forms of care will ‘not make things easier,’ he said.

  • The Dutch Museum Association has announced to automatically renew the validity of the museum cards (more than 1.4 million).The association is required by law to offer the extension because the museums have been closed since 12 March due to measures taken against the corona virus. The length of the extension depends on the period that the museums remain closed. The closure will last until at least 1 June.

    Since Thursday, the Museum Association has been offering cardholders the opportunity to request a refund or to convert the balance on the museum card into a donation to the museums. 93% of the more than 11,000 cardholders who responded until Monday opted for a donation, a spokesperson for the Dutch Museum Association said. The other 7% asked for their money back.”We are very happy with the large number of donations,” said the spokesperson. “It shows that people have a warm heart for museums in times of crisis.” In the near future, the Museum Association will launch an online campaign to draw more attention to the donation option.

The extension of the measures is bad news for all of us. Despite not being able to organize events and gatherings just yet, we hope to keep in touch with all of you. If you have any further questions or requests, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Kind regards,

Jinn van Gastel
Project Manager at Dujat

DUJAT (Dutch and Japanese Trade Federation)

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Sources: EDNuTelegraafNHKJapanTimesJapanTodayWorldometers