Weekly Update: News on Japan & the Netherlands – Week 17, 2021
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Update on Japan
Japan’s 3rd coronavirus state of emergency took effect in Tokyo and the prefectures of Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo on Sunday amid a virus surge.
Under the new restrictions, operators of bars and restaurants that serve alcohol are asked to close their business, along with karaoke establishments, shopping malls and other large facilities, as well as tourism spots such as Tokyo Skytree and Universal Studios Japan in Osaka.
The emergency declaration will be effective for 17 days through 11 May in a bid to curb infections during the upcoming Golden Week holidays from late April to early May. Public transport operators such as train and bus companies have been asked to end operations earlier on weeknights, with reduced services on weekends and holidays.
While a quasi-state of emergency was designated in the major cities of Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto as well as in Hyogo and six other prefectures earlier this month, the measures have been unsuccessful in bringing down coronavirus cases and easing the strain on the healthcare system.
The percentage of COVID-19 patients who need hospitalization and have been admitted into a medical institution has been below 25% in Kyoto, Osaka and Hyogo prefectures, equivalent to the highest severity level on a four-point scale, sources close to the matter said Sunday.
The new criterion, known as the hospitalization rate, was added to existing indicators on 15 April at a government COVID-19 taskforce meeting, with 40% or less considered a Stage 3 “infections are spreading,” and 25% or less considered a Stage 4 “explosive spread of infections.” The percentage nationwide is also a low 26%, with 41% of people recuperating in their own homes.
Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide ordered the defense ministry to set up large-scale vaccination center in Tokyo, to deliver COVID-19 shots to the elderly faster.
The center will launch on 24 May and be staffed by Self-Defense Forces doctors and nurses, running for about three months, Kishi said at a press conference.
About 900,000 people aged 65 or older residing in the capital and neighboring Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama prefectures are expected to mainly use the center, which will exclusively offer Moderna Inc’s vaccine, according to sources familiar with the plan. The Moderna shot is still under review by the health ministry and municipalities are currently using the vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc.
The center will be run in a government building in downtown Tokyo’s Otemachi district with the help of the Cabinet Office and the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.
“The defense ministry and the Self-Defense Forces are Japan’s last line of defense. I’m asking you to play that role in COVID-19 measures, which are a crucial part of the nation’s crisis management,” Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi quoted Suga as telling him.
Kishi said he was also instructed to support plans to set up a large-scale vaccination center in the western region centering on Osaka, where infections are spreading faster than anywhere else in Japan. The sources said the government is considering similar sites in other parts of the country as well.
After the center in Tokyo finishes vaccinating the elderly, it will continue administering shots to people with underlying conditions such as diabetes and workers at elderly care facilities, Kishi told a parliamentary session on Tuesday.
The rollout of coronavirus vaccines in Japan for people under 65 may begin in July depending on the availability of supplies, Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Norihisa Tamura said on a Fuji Television program last Sunday.
If the government can secure more COVID-19 vaccines than it needs to finish inoculating the elderly by the end of July as planned, vaccination of younger people could start the same month.
Japan approved the world’s largest free trade pact with China and ASEAN. The Japanese parliament approved the deal on Wednesday, signed by 15 Asia-Pacific countries including China and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, raising the possibility for the pact to enter into force later this year.
The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership will create a free trade zone covering about 30% of the world’s gross domestic product, trade and population. It will be Japan’s first trade deal involving both China and South Korea, its largest and third biggest trade partners.
The pact, signed by the 15 countries last November, will come into effect 60 days after it is ratified by six of the ASEAN members and three of the other countries. As of Wednesday, Singapore and China have completed procedures for ratification.
The deal will eliminate tariffs on 91% of goods and introduces common rules on investment and intellectual property to promote free trade. The government expects the trade accord will boost Japan’s GDP by 2.7% and create 570,000 jobs.
RCEP groups the 10 ASEAN members: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, plus Japan, China, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.
India was one of the founding members but skipped all negotiations from November 2019 due to concern that its trade deficit with China would grow.
Kawasaki Heavy Industries has developed an innovative PCR testing system controlled by robots that it is aiming to set up in downtown areas and airports by March next year, Nikkei has learned.
Each robot can conduct 2,500 PCR tests a day and the company is planning to roll out up to 50 of them by March in the first of its kind globally. This equates to 125,000 tests per day, almost doubling the current COVID testing capacity across the country.
The robots will be able to conduct the whole process but for the collection of samples for which human labor is needed. Nonetheless, the system helps to reduce the number of medical staff needed to conduct such tests, which in turn lowers the possibility of contagion.
Demand for PCR testing is growing as the number of infections globally is still rising rapidly. According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, 60,000 to 80,000 PCR tests are run a day across Japan.
Testing companies such as H.U. Group Holdings and BML can conduct up to 30,000 tests each a day. It usually takes up to three hours to deliver test results. By contrast, Kawasaki’s system takes only 80 minutes to deliver a result, after the robots run a series of processes such as nucleic acid extraction, reagent preparation, and PCR.
The new system was jointly developed with Sysmex and Medicaroid but it is the first time that Kawasaki is offering the testing service under its own branding. Both Kawasaki and Sysmex have stakes in Medicaroid. The test setup is equipped with Kawasaki’s robots which are typically used in auto and semiconductor production and Sysmex’s PCR machines.
Kawasaki is expecting to offer the service at around 10,000 yen ($92) per test. The company is in talks with multiple municipalities and airport operators, with the hope of offering the service as early as May. Additionally, Kawasaki is also building a system that can issue COVID certificates for those who take the PCR tests at airports, at which the company aims to conduct 10,000 tests per day.
Kawasaki’s system could be also used at sports events and enables athletes to take tests near the venues. Since February, Kawasaki has been offering pre-departure PCR testing services at Fujita Health University in Aichi prefecture as a trial.
Japan will begin issuing newly redesigned 500 yen coins from around November 2021.
The Finance Ministry said this on Tuesday, after their initial release in the first half of the fiscal year from April was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The new 500 yen coins, minted in two colors to prevent counterfeiting, are the first redesign since 2000.
The ministry in January postponed issuance of the new coins due to delayed updates to ticket and automated teller machines amid the pandemic. While the ministry plans to mint around 200 million of the new coins in fiscal 2021, the approximately 5 billion coins currently in circulation will still be usable. The new coins, which do not differ substantially from the current design, feature etchings on the inner rim.
The government also plans to release new banknotes in 2024, the first redesign since 2004, featuring figures from Japan’s modern history such as Eiichi Shibusawa (1840-1931), widely known as the “father of Japanese capitalism.”
A Japanese app contest was held, aiming to tap girls’ IT skills. Teams of schoolgirls in Japan have taken part in the competition to come up with ideas for smartphone apps that solve social problems. It is part of a global initiative to close the gender gap in the IT sector.
For the contest, 23 teams of junior and senior high-school students made presentations of their apps online. The contest was organized by a Japanese non-profit organization, Waffle, and corporate sponsors.
The first prize went to an app to help foreign nationals settle in Japan. It offers easy guidance on visas, and language lessons in practical Japanese used in everyday life. Another team pitched an app designed to encourage the sharing of household chores, by treating the tasks as a game.
Waffle CEO Tanaka Sayaka said, “Currently, only about 20% of people working in Japan’s IT sector are women. To narrow the gap, we need to increase the number of female students who choose such a career path.”
The top 10 teams will advance to a global competition in August, organized by the US-based non-profit, Technovation.
A government survey shows that Japan may have a shortfall of up to 790,000 people with IT skills by 2030.
Update on the Netherlands
Terraces open and no more curfews: from Wednesday 28 April the previously announced relaxations started as planned.
After more than half a year, it will be possible to enjoy a drink on a terrace again, and the curfew will also disappear. You may also receive (slightly) more people at home, shopping is possible without an appointment, and more people may be present at a funeral.
A visit to the terrace is possible between 12:00 and 18:00 and only by reservation. You can make this reservation in advance online or by telephone, but it can also be done on the spot when you actually want to sit on the terrace. A health check takes place upon arrival.
Only two people may be seated at a table, unless they are people from the same household or children up to the age of twelve. A maximum of fifty people applies for the entire terrace. When you get up to go to the toilet, for example, wearing a mouth mask is mandatory.
You will probably spend a little more on a beer in the long run than before. Brewers have already announced that they are going to increase their prices somewhat. Because the terraces have to close at 18:00, dining is not an option. It is possible to have lunch and eat bitterballen. Sports facilities terraces will remain closed.
Horeca association KHN calls the opening of the terraces a first step forward for a small part of the entrepreneurs (not every café or restaurant has a terrace). “A small ray of hope, but not enough”, is the opinion of KHN. They will therefore continue to argue for further reopening.
The RIVM expects that a million 18 to 60-year-olds with a medical indication will receive their first vaccination against the coronavirus one week earlier than planned.
The group had previously been placed backwards in the vaccination strategy, but according to the RIVM, an acceleration is now possible due to the early delivery of almost 2 million vaccines from Pfizer-BioNtech.
Inviting the group of vulnerable starts from next week via their own GP. An appointment must then be made at the GGD. The invitation takes place in phases in order not to overload the GGD’s appointment line and website. The injection starts in the second week of May.
Other groups will also benefit from the extra vaccines. “The accelerated delivery of Pfizer provides an acceleration of about a week on the total of 1st injections for the total population,” said a RIVM spokesperson.
The one week of acceleration can be especially important for the million people in the medical risk group. They are more likely to have complications from a corona infection. It concerns, for example, people with lung diseases. The group is also eligible for an annual flu vaccination and is also referred to as the ‘flu shot group’.
The million people in this group had previously been pushed back three weeks in the vaccination campaign by a decision of the Ministry of Health and the RIVM . This was a result of the decision to stop giving the AstraZeneca vaccine to people under the age of 60.
At first the whole group would have received the first injection at the end of May, but that was then in mid-June. So now it is the beginning of June. People from the group are already vaccinated by some GGDs with the few vaccines that are left there every day.
The Dutch vaccination campaign planning is now as follows:
- Early May: all people over 70 and all people with Down’s Syndrome and morbid obesity a first injection
- Second half of May: all people over 60 and everyone with a high medical risk a first injection
- Early June: all people with a medical indication a first injection
- Mid-June: all over 50s a first injection
- Second half of June: all over 40s a first injection
- Early July: all over 18s who want a first injection
“A King’s Day to never forget, and hopefully never repeat.” This is how King Willem-Alexander described this year’s King’s Day during the corona pandemic.
This means that for the second year in a row, the national holiday had to take place without any major events, markets and festivals. But despite all the limitations, the Netherlands managed to celebrate the King’s birthday with a virtual program featuring the king and his family in the city of Eindhoven.
According to Eindhoven, the royal family chose the Brabant city this year because the Brainport Eindhoven region “in their view can develop a program in which physical presence can be combined with a digital experience”. King Willem-Alexander calls King’s Day in Eindhoven “very special”. “I would like to thank everyone for that,” he says on Twitter at the end of the day.
Despite the warm welcome and support, the nationwide popularity of the Dutch royal family has been going down compared to previous years, and support for the monarchy has taken a significant hit as well, the annual King’s Day Survey by Ipsos for broadcaster NOS has shown.
An interim poll conducted by Ipsos on behalf of Nieuwsuur at the end of last year showed a sharp drop in confidence in the king, from 76% in April 2020 to 47%. Now that confidence has risen to 57%, but is still clearly lower than in previous years. Another striking result of the poll is that three-quarters of the respondents think that Princess Amalia will soon, when she turns 18, receive too high a grant (1.6 million euros).
Support for a monarchy among the Dutch is still greater than support for a republic, but support for the monarchy has declined from nearly 75% in 2020 to 58% today. Almost a quarter of all respondents believe that the Netherlands should become a republic, against 15% in 2020. Many young people in particular think it is time for a change.
Train passengers and carriers are expected to experience a great deal of inconvenience from Wednesday to Saturday due to actions by the FNV Spoor trade union, with no train traffic at all on 1 May.
The strike campaign started on Wednesday morning, with no train traffic around Utrecht, Amsterdam and Alkmaar between 06:00 and 08:00. Members of the FNV Spoor trade union at ProRail traffic control posts are going on strike for a new collective labor agreement. As a result, the NS cannot run trains.
Other actions will follow on Thursday in The Hague, Rotterdam, Dordrecht and Roosendaal. On Friday, there will be a strike in Groningen, Zwolle, Eindhoven, Maastricht and Arnhem. A nationwide 24-hour strike is scheduled for Saturday, starting at 5:00 in the morning until 5:00 on Sunday.
The FNV Spoor union, which organized the strike, is demanding a 2.8% pay rise, a shorter collective labor agreement and a wider application of the early retirement scheme.
Anyone who still has to travel by train this week is advised to consult the travel planner, and only plan the trip shortly before departure.
The Netherlands, Belgium and Germany call on citizens to stay in their own country in the coming weeks.
Ministers from the three countries made an “urgent appeal ” to their residents on Wednesday, to prevent the number of corona infections from rising further.
On behalf of the Netherlands, outgoing minister Ferd Grapperhaus (Justice and Security) emphasized that people should avoid unnecessary travel and can return to the Netherlands “only in better times”.
“Unfortunately, this is not the time for socializing, visiting friends or shopping across the border. The Dutch, Belgians and Germans have to keep a distance from each other. That helps us in all three countries in the fight against corona and saves lives.” In the Netherlands, the terraces are open again from Wednesday, while in Belgium that will only happen on 8 May. Germany has not yet set a date on which the terraces can be opened.
“An influx of people from outside our borders would further complicate the situation,” said Grapperhaus. “I would therefore like to say to our Belgian and German neighbors: in better times you are more than welcome again. But for now you help us by staying in your own country.”
Since the evening of Monday 26 April, passenger flights from India are no longer allowed to land at Schiphol.
The cabinet has made this decision due to the high number of infections in that country. More than 300,000 new infections have been diagnosed in India every day in the past four days. Help has now been pledged from all over the world.
Flights with cargo and medical personnel will remain permitted and the flight ban will provisionally apply until 1 May. About seven flights from India come to the Netherlands every week. Most passengers transfer to another flight at Schiphol.
In contrast to, for example, Italy, the United Kingdom and Canada, the Netherlands did not yet have a flight ban from India. Travelers to the Netherlands were advised to go into quarantine, but many people ignore that.
There is uncertainty about the Indian changes and the government wants to prevent the Netherlands from becoming a preferred option for passengers from India when entering the European Union. The decision follows partly on the basis of an urgent advice from the RIVM.
In India, the number of corona infections has increased sharply in recent weeks. “The virus has now also penetrated into areas where there were few cases before,” said correspondent Aletta André on Wednesday.
Minister Kaag (Development Cooperation) announced to donate 2.5 million euros to the Red Cross for corona emergency aid, 1 million of which will go to India. The contribution is in addition to the support provided by the Netherlands through the international Covax program, which regulates vaccines for poor countries. Two weeks ago, the Netherlands gave an extra contribution of 40 million to Covax. Part of that contribution already benefits India.
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Jinn van Gastel
Project Manager at Dujat
DUJAT (Dutch and Japanese Trade Federation)
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