Weekly Update: News on Japan & the Netherlands – Week 18, 2021

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Update on Japan

The number of patients with serious symptoms across Japan stands at 1,084, renewing the record set on Sunday. The medical system is under great strain.

The western prefecture of Osaka has the largest number of new cases. Officials confirmed 847 on Monday. Osaka Governor Yoshimura Hirofumi said, “I ask everyone to please refrain from going out during the weeklong holiday period, or from coming into close contact with people outside.”

Yoshimura said he would decide whether to ask the central government to extend the state of emergency later this week, based on the infection numbers. The current state of emergency is due to expire on 11 May. Hospital beds for seriously ill patients were at more than 98% capacity as of Saturday in Osaka. Nursing care facilities are also being affected. Five people at this facility have become infected. One of them is still unable to get a hospital bed. Staff at the facility are caring for the person in full protective gear.

The government is pushing ahead with vaccinations. It plans to set up large sites run by the Self-Defense Forces. The State Minister of Defense visited one site in Osaka on Monday. The center in Tokyo’s Otemachi district is expected to be used by some 900,000 people aged 65 or older residing in the capital and neighboring Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama prefectures. It will launch on 24 May.

Following updates on vaccinations and vaccines,  the first batch of the coronavirus vaccine developed by U.S. pharmaceutical maker Moderna Inc arrived in Japan on Friday, with the government planning to use it at mass vaccination centers following expected approval in May.

Amid criticism over Japan’s slow pace of inoculation, Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide hopes to update existing legislation. If approved, new vaccines and treatments that are already in use overseas would temporarily be made available to the public before a clinical trial can be completed in Japan.

“Most countries do not require a domestic clinical trial, but Japan does,” Suga told reporters on Friday. “I strongly feel that we need to update our legal framework for emergency situations.” The revision could be submitted to parliament as early as next year.

Japan plans to introduce “vaccine passports” to make it easier for people who have been inoculated against COVID-19 to travel internationally, government sources said Wednesday.

The passports are expected to be in the form of a smartphone app, with travelers scanning QR codes at airports before boarding flights or when entering the country. The government is moving forward with the plan in the hope of resuming business travel that has virtually stopped during the pandemic, joining the European Union, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China.

“Other countries are doing it, so Japan will have to consider it too,” Kono Taro, the minister in charge of the country’s vaccination efforts, said in a parliamentary session Wednesday.

Kono had previously voiced concern that requiring certification of vaccination could lead to discrimination against people unable or unwilling to receive shots due to potential allergic reactions or side effects. To allay such worries, the passports will also list negative results from polymerase chain reaction and antigen tests, the sources said. It is not expected that the scheme will be used domestically, for example to regulate entry into restaurants or sports events.

The app will link with the Vaccination Record System, a government database of people who have received shots. It will likely be based on CommonPass, an app developed with the involvement of the World Economic Forum. The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare and the Foreign Ministry will play a central role in working out the details of the plan, the sources said.

Keidanren, the country’s biggest business lobby, called on the government on Monday to consider introducing vaccine passports, pointing to the EU’s plans to launch its “Digital Green Pass” in June to allow foreign tourists to visit during the summer holidays.

Japan currently only allows entry to citizens and foreign residents as well as foreigners with “special exceptional circumstances,” and they must submit negative results for coronavirus tests taken within 72 hours prior to their departure.

Roughly 2.3 million people in Japan had received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine as of Tuesday, mostly health care workers. That is less than 2% of the population. Fewer than 1 million people had received both of the required doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, currently the only one approved for use in Japan.

About 80% of respondents said they would accept both a reigning empress and an emperor descending from a female member of the imperial family amid a shrinking number of heirs.

This was in response to a recent Kyodo News poll. The results of the mail survey conducted in March and April were broadly in line with the outcome of the previous Kyodo poll on the issue conducted last year, indicating an overwhelming majority of people support changes to the rule limiting imperial succession to men from the paternal line.

The latest survey conducted ahead of the nation’s Constitution Memorial Day on Monday also showed 67% were opposed to the idea of reinstating male patrilineal descendants of the now-abolished collateral branches of the imperial family who abandoned their status in 1947.

How to ensure a stable succession to the Chrysanthemum Throne has become an urgent task since former Emperor Akihito, 87, relinquished the throne in 2019, the first emperor to do so in around 200 years, based on a one-off law.

Current Emperor Naruhito, 61, has only three heirs: his brother Crown Prince Fumihito, 55, his nephew Prince Hisahito, 14, and his uncle Prince Hitachi, 85. The emperor and Empress Masako have one daughter, 19-year-old Princess Aiko. The number of imperial family members has been decreasing as women are required to abandon their royal status upon marrying commoners under the 1947 Imperial House Law.

In March, the government launched formal discussions on how to ensure a stable imperial succession by establishing an advisory panel to solicit views from experts. Despite widespread public support for a reigning empress and an emperor descending from the maternal line, opposition to the idea remains strong among conservative academics and lawmakers including members of Prime Minister Suga’s Liberal Democratic Party.

The panel has been discussing topics including the creation of a system to enable women to remain in the royal family even after their marriage to commoners and reinstating members of the 11 former collateral branches that share with the imperial family a common ancestor some 600 years ago.

The latest Kyodo survey targeted 3,000 people aged 18 and older across the country and drew 1,907 responses by 19 April, of which 1,839 were treated as valid. The response rate was 61.3%. It showed 52% of the respondents supported and 35% somewhat backed a reigning empress, meaning a total of 87% were in favor of the idea, up slightly from 85% in last year’s survey.

Asked about an emperor descending from the maternal line, 43% of the respondents were in favor and 37% were somewhat supportive. The total of 80% was almost unchanged from 79% last year. By age and gender, more than 90% of female respondents in their 30s or younger said they would accept both a reigning empress and an emperor from the maternal line, the poll showed.

Among a total of nine academics and journalists interviewed during two meetings of the advisory panel held in April, many were in support of a reigning empress, but most of them were cautious about an emperor from the maternal line. The advisory panel will hear from a total of about 20 experts and is aiming to reach a conclusion by this fall, at which point it will present its findings to parliament.

About 180 torchbearers have taken part in the Okinawa leg of the Tokyo Olympic torch relay.

The two-day event in the southwestern prefecture began on Saturday, but the runners did not use public roads on the main island as a preventive measure against the coronavirus. On Sunday, the relay was held without spectators at the Peace Memorial Park in Itoman City.

In Zamami Village, torchbearers boarded traditional wooden ships to pass the torch between islands. The next leg of the relay will begin on Wednesday in Kumamoto Prefecture.

Regarding the games, organizers of the Tokyo Olympics said on Wednesday that they will be deciding limits for domestic spectators in June, not April as originally planned. The decision to postpone was made jointly by Tokyo 2020, the International Olympic Committee, the International Paralympic Committee, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and the Japanese government.

“Currently, it is difficult to accurately predict the infection situation in July,” Olympic Minister Marukawa Tamayo told reporters after the five-party meeting. Organizers said the state of emergency declared last weekend had forced the postponement. Tokyo 2020 President Hashimoto Seiko said the declaration was a “a situation we did not anticipate.”

Confirmed daily cases of COVID-19 surged to over 4,000 last week, prompting Prime Minister Suga to reimpose restrictions on Tokyo and other prefectures ahead of the coming Golden Week holiday. Organizers said all participants in the games, athletes and support staff will have to test negative twice before entering Japan. Athletes will be tested every day after their arrival. Marukawa said private testing companies will be used to avoid overwhelming the local health system.

Muto Toshiro, Tokyo 2020’s chief executive, said a determination has yet to be made on the number of medical staff that will be needed for the games, but some local estimates put the number at around 10,000. Athletes, visitors, and domestic participants in the games will be told to remain inside the Olympic Village, not to use public transport, and to eat only in designated areas.

Muto was asked how visitor compliance with COVID-19 countermeasures would be enforced. “The worst penalty would be the possibility of taking away accreditations,” he said.

Despite going into a state of emergency, Tokyo 2020 is pushing ahead with Olympic test events in May. Those will start on Saturday with the FINA Diving World Cup. Australia has already withdrawn its divers because of Japan’s deteriorating COVID-19 situation.

The Japanese government said Friday it has decided to send 300 respirators and 300 oxygen concentrators to India. 

India is battling one of the world’s worst coronavirus crises with the rapid spread of the virus, including more contagious variants. The move came after Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi agreed during phone talks on Monday to work together to fight the pandemic of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus.

“Given our friendship with India, which is an important partner in realizing a free and open Indo-Pacific region, we have decided to extend emergency assistance to help people affected by the novel coronavirus from a humanitarian standpoint,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato Katsunobu said at a press conference. Kato also said Japan will consider additional aid for India depending on the virus situation in the country.

The Indian government announced Wednesday the country’s COVID-19 death toll had eclipsed 200,000, with over 300,000 new daily infections confirmed recently.

The South Asian country is the second hardest-hit country by the pandemic after the United States, having seen over 18 million cases, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally.

Japanese trading house Mitsubishi Corp. is set to boost renewable energy in power generation business.

They will increase the share of renewable energy sources in its power generation business from the current 30% to over 60% by its 2030 fiscal year, bringing one of its most important businesses in line with the government’s latest efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The company will increase investment in solar and wind power at home and abroad, while gradually reducing coal-fired power generation to zero by 2050.

Trading companies handle the electric power business, which ranges from the construction to operation of power plants which are mainly located overseas. Mitsubishi Corp. has a generating capacity of 10.8m kilowatts, including those under development, when calculated based on its ownership ratio. By fiscal 2030, Mitsubishi Corp. will double the amount of power from renewable energy sources from the levels in fiscal 2019 to 6.6m kilowatts.

The firm joins a list of Japanese companies increasing their decarbonization efforts, after Tokyo recently announced an ambitious target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 46% by fiscal 2030 from fiscal 2013 levels, and to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

Mitsubishi Corp. is expected to speed up its push to create new systems to manage electricity supply and demand by leveraging technology and storage batteries. It will also have to review its business model in order to transition to renewable energy.

In the U.S. and Europe, the company will promote development through its electric power subsidiary Eneco, a Dutch renewable energy power generator it bought in March 2020 in partnership with Chubu Electric Power. The subsidiary, which mainly develops new offshore wind power plants, has 6m power contracts in countries including the Netherlands and Belgium.

In Japan, offshore wind power development projects will be launched in Chiba and Akita prefectures. Mitsubishi Corp. aims to gain more projects by making use of Eneco’s experience in Europe, which is a more advanced market for renewables.

Coal and gas-fired thermal power generation, which currently accounts for 70% of Mitsubishi Corp.’s power supply mix, will be drastically reduced. Coal emissions will be slashed by 60% to 830,000 kilowatts and gas emissions by half to about 2.75m kilowatts. The total generation capacity is expected to remain flat, with renewable energy accounting for more than 60% of the total.

The company will not develop new coal-fired plants, and will gradually withdraw from existing facilities. As of 2030, a total of just three coal plants, including Vietnam’s planned Vung Ang 2 project, as well as a coal gasification combined cycle power plant (IGCC) in Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, are expected to remain.

Mitsubishi Corp. is the first Japanese trading company to announce a reduction in its use of gas-fired power plants. By 2050, the company aims to achieve virtually zero carbon emissions in the entire power generation business by establishing a technology to burn coal mixed with hydrogen and ammonia in gas-fired thermal power plants.

Update on the Netherlands

Comparison: Dam Square on Remembrance Day before and after corona.

No further reopening before the hospital figures drop sharply, OMT argues.

Only when hospital and IC admissions fall by 20% for at least a week will there really be room to relax lockdown measures. This is what the Outbreak Management Team (OMT) states in its new advice to the Dutch cabinet.

For the first step of the plan to gradually release the Netherlands from the lockdown, the OMT had already advised that the number of new admissions should have decreased by at least 10%, viewed on average over a week. Two weeks ago, the cabinet ignored that advice by reopening the terraces and shops on Wednesday and abolishing the curfew.

It has still not come to that 10% decrease. That is why the cabinet decided last Saturday to postpone phase two in the reopening of the Netherlands, scheduled for 11 May, for at least a week. This second step includes the reopening of animal parks and gyms.

Minister Hugo de Jonge of Public Health writes in the letter accompanying the advice to the House of Representatives that the cabinet will respond substantively on Tuesday 11 May to the advice of the OMT in recent weeks and that of next Monday. In The Hague, it is expected that there may be another press conference on 11 May about a possible further relaxation of the lockdown measures.

Dutch researchers are training bees to detect coronavirus.

At Wageningen Bioveterinary Research, part of Wageningen University & Research, together with InsectSense company, researchers trained bees to stick their tongues out when they smell the coronavirus. This way they can detect corona infections. Perhaps the insects can even be used in making a diagnosis. This can be a solution, especially in poor countries.

Bees can smell very well: they can detect a flower from miles away. In Lelystad, it was investigated with 150 bees whether they could be trained quickly to select corona infections from tests taken with a cotton swab.

A French university also contributed to the research into the possibility of using bees in the fight against the coronavirus. “Every time the bees were exposed to the scent of an infected sample, they received a sugar water reward,” the researchers report. “The bees put out their tongues to catch the sugar water.”

By doing that more than once, the bees associated the sugar reward with the scent and started sticking out their tongues for the scent alone, with no reward. Tongue sticking out is seen by a biosensor.

According to the researchers, the method has ‘the potential to be very reliable’, because it works with three to five bees per diagnosis. They cannot give exact success rates yet.

Bees can still be found worldwide, the researchers say, and can be used a few times as a corona detector. Then they can be released. According to the researchers, it is very unlikely that the bees will carry virus particles further after their ‘work’, but this is also being investigated further.

In addition to bees, equipment is needed to train bees, to house trained bees and the biosensor is needed to register the sticking out of the tongues. According to the researchers, the bee tests will be ‘much cheaper than the current tests and systems already in the initial phase’, because the necessary machines are simple and the test results can be read immediately.

On Tuesday evening (4 May) the Netherlands commemorates the war victims of the Second World War in silence, and again like last year, without crowds due to COVID-19. 

At 19:58 a trumpet will play the Last Post on an empty Dam Square and at 20:00 the country will go silent for two minutes to remember the dead. Trains and cars will come to a halt and there are no take-offs and landings at Schiphol airport during two minutes’ silence, which takes place at 20:00. Shops and supermarkets are required by law to close at 19:00.

King Willem-Alexander and queen Maxima will lay a wreath at the memorial on Dam square in the presence of Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Amsterdam Mayor Femke Halsema. The commemoration and the two minutes of silence at 20:00 can be followed directly on NPO1. This channel also previously showed the National Commemoration in De Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam.

Wednesday 5 May, on which the Netherlands celebrates its freedom on liberation day, will also be very different with no festivals nationwide. However, the freedom flame will be lit in Wageningen as usual and there will be ceremonial flames in all 12 Dutch provinces.

Amsterdam bans metro station advertisements that promote cheap flights and polluting cars.

The municipality is banning all advertisements for fossil products there. Amsterdam is the first city in the world to take this step. The ban applies to, among other things, flying holidays at cheap prices, petrol and products that run on fossil energy. As of today, advertisements for this have been banned in 40 metro stations, good for nearly 300 screens.

Alderman Marieke van Doorninck (sustainability, GroenLinks) finds it remarkable that the municipality of Amsterdam sets high sustainability requirements, but in the meantime recommends fossil products in the city. “You should actually see the need to combat climate change in the streets, and therefore also in the advertisements,” she said in the NOS Radio 1 Journaal .

The ban only applies to specific products. It is not possible to ban an entire brand, according to the councilor. “We cannot legally enforce the ban outside the metro stations. A national ban can,” says Van Doorninck.

About 10% of the advertisements will now disappear, thinks Mark Veenman of advertising operator CS Digital Media. His employees will test whether advertisements meet the established guidelines. “For example, we are looking at whether oil products are used in advertising to power engines and machines,” says Veenman.

The ban follows an initiative by citizens’ initiative Verbied Fossiele Reclame (‘forbid fossil advertisements’) which wants a nationwide ban on advertisements for fossil products. “I hope there will be a snowball effect and that other cities will follow,” says initiator Femke Sleegers.

Greenpeace Netherlands calls it a powerful signal. “We will not all drive an electric car tomorrow, but this is a step in the right direction,” said spokesman Meike Rijksen. Political parties are also calling for a ban in other Dutch cities. In Utrecht, such an initiative was rejected. According to the municipality, the advertisements meet the rules that apply to advertising. “There are also colleges awaiting a national ban,” says initiator Sleegers.

In 2017, advertisements for unhealthy food for children up to the age of eighteen were already banned in Amsterdam metro stations.

The Dutch online retailer Bol.com was scammed for about € 750,000. The original receiver, Brabantia, is still entitled to the money, the court ruled.

Over a year ago, Bol.com transferred the sum into an account of scammers, while the webshop thought it was paying Brabantia, a household goods manufacturer. Brabantia is still entitled to the money, Het Financieele Dagblad ( FD ) reports on Sunday, based on a court ruling last month.

According to the newspaper, Bol received an e-mail full of spelling errors in November 2019, in which the scammers claimed their bank account number had changed and asked for the money to be deposited into a new Spanish account number.

The message was supposedly from Brabantia, using the company logo. The scammers were able to send this email on behalf of the company, because in 2019 they hacked an email address of an employee of the Brabant manufacturer. This gave the hackers access to their mailbox. Employees at Bol fell for the trick and transferred the total amount of 751,493.09 euros.

According to the court ruling, the online store believes that its employees had sufficient reason to believe that the e-mail was authentic. For example, the e-mail address, the layout of the letter and the signatures of the management seemed reliable.

The judge disagreed and ruled that the criminals’ request should have led to healthy suspicion, because “why would a company established in the Netherlands want to receive all payments from another company established in the Netherlands into a Spanish bank account?”

Brabantia says to the FD that it is happy with the court’s decision and that it wants to maintain a good working relationship with Bol. Bol would still consider an appeal, FD reported.

Update on Dujat & Members

We welcome you to join our upcoming online event next week: the Sports & Nutrition Webinar on 12 May: Olympic Games Tokyo 2021 – Nutrition and Medical Support for Sports Performance, with presenters from Oost NL, Wageningen University & Research, Nutrition & Healthcare Alliance, Sports Valley, Fuji Europe Africa B.V. and Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency.

How can nutrition support the best performance during the Olympic games? What are effects of Japanese foods on your health? And more will be discussed.

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.nlNOSRTL NieuwsJapanTodayNHKNikkei Asia