- The total number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in Japan stood at 15,253 on Wednesday 6 May, health officials said, with a total of 556 people who lost their lives as a result of the disease.
- On Monday 31 May, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said to extend the state of emergency nationwide until 31 May. It had been due to expire on Wednesday, but the country’s minister for the virus response Yasutoshi Nishimura said earlier that new infections were still growing.
“The number of new cases has declined, but unfortunately the decrease has not reached the targeted level,” he said during a meeting with an expert panel advising the government on the pandemic.
Meanwhile, Osaka is moving forward with a plan that could reopen more businesses in the area by the middle of the month.
Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura said last Saturday that, from 15 May, the prefecture would start judging by itself whether to lift the request for nonessential businesses to close and for people to stay indoors. Criteria for the decision include the prefectural infection rate, the number of those who don’t know how they became infected and the situation with hospital beds at the time.
“For closed businesses, every day is a matter of survival, and one month to remain closed is a heavy burden. For one week (7 – 14 May), we want them to endure. We’ll judge whether we partially lift the restrictions from 15 May,” Yoshimura said.
- The forced cancellation of major festivals and fireworks events this summer in Japan due to the coronavirus pandemic is frustrating for the host towns and cities that rely on the cultural and financial contribution they make to their local areas.
Major events that were to be part of Kyoto’s Gion Festival have to be cancelled for the first time in 58 years, while the Nebuta Festival in Aomori was called off for the first time in 62 years. Kochi’s Yosakoi Festival was also cancelled for the first time in its 66-year history.
Further disappointment will be felt by residents of Tokyo and neighboring areas who normally attend the annual Sumida River Fireworks Festival in July. Cancelled for 2020, the event usually draws around a million spectators to the river that runs through the east and north of the capital.
Referring to the cancellation of the Nebuta Festival, the Aomori prefectural government said it will have a significant impact on the prefecture’s economy, most notably in the transport and tourism sectors.
“The number of tourists traveling exclusively for the festival will be zero, and the impact will be serious,” said Kenichi Tsubo, a prefectural official for tourism affairs, citing the damage that transport companies, souvenir shops, restaurants and hotel operators will sustain.
“It is usually the peak period for our business. It has dealt us a severe blow,” a hotel staffer said.
- Japan’s health ministry will introduce a system for health centers to report new coronavirus cases online instead of by hand-written faxes, phone or email – drawing praise from some but scorn from others wondering what took it so long.
Despite Japan’s high-tech image, many businesses and government offices still rely on fax machines, generating documents on which officials can stamp their approval with traditional hanko seals, and leaving a paper trail.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has been promoting working from home to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, has told cabinet ministers to overhaul regulations and identify burdensome procedures with a view to scrapping or simplifying them.
The health ministry said it would launch the online reporting system from 10 May, with it going nationwide from 17 May, to reduce the burden on health centers struggling with a growing coronavirus epidemic.
- The Tokyo metropolitan government will pay more financial aid to businesses in the capital that remain closed after Wednesday in line with its suspension request as part of efforts to prevent the further spread of the new coronavirus.
The policy was announced on Tuesday, a day after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe extended a nationwide state of emergency. The businesses eligible to receive the financial assistance include restaurants, bars and live music venues, which have been asked by the metropolitan government to suspend operations during the period.
Before the state of emergency was extended by roughly one month, the Tokyo government had agreed to pay 500,000 yen (over €4000) to business owners with a single shop and 1 million yen to those running multiple outlets.
- Bankruptcies due to the effects of the coronavirus sharply increased in Japan in April, with the number reaching nearly 90, especially affecting small and medium-sized firms in the tourism and accommodation sectors, a recent survey showed.
As of last Friday, the number of bankruptcies linked to the spread of the virus totaled 114, compared with 25 at the end of March, according to the survey conducted by Tokyo Shoko Research.
Of the total, 26, the largest portion, were from the accommodation sector, followed by 16 among eateries and 10 among apparel companies. By region, 38 bankruptcies (over 30%), were filed in Tokyo and its surrounding areas.
Business failures stemming from the COVID-19 outbreak are feared to rise as authorities continue to ask people to stay home as much as possible and to tighten border controls, sharply reducing spending by foreign and domestic tourists and consumers, analysts said.
Although the government has taken steps to support struggling companies, enacting an extra budget for fiscal 2020 late last month to finance an economic package, a Tokyo Shoko Research official said that despite these support measures, companies will still find it difficult to assess when they can repay loans as it remains uncertain when the virus will be contained..
“More companies may choose to close down their businesses,” the official said.
- Japan’s major shipbuilders have been maneuvering behind the scenes to win a contract to build the country’s first hospital ship as the coronavirus pandemic threatens to create a shortage of patient beds on land.
Japan inched closer to commissioning a hospital ship, earmarking 70 million yen ($655,000) for a feasibility study in a broader supplementary budget passed last week. Shipbuilding companies have stepped up lobbying efforts to build the ships since March.
“With our vessel type, we can bring this kind of hospital ship to fruition,” said a shipbuilder representative.
Japan Marine United, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Kawasaki Heavy Industries and Mitsui E&S Holdings have all reportedly shown interest in the project — which could serve as a potential life preserver to an industry that has been besieged by foreign competition and a global economic slowdown that has led to a dearth of orders.
The price tag for one ship is hefty, with estimates ranging between 25 billion yen and 30 billion yen. It will include 250 hospital beds, as well as a helicopter and a rescue hovercraft.
The plan would be to deploy two hospital ships, one each to Japan’s northern and southern reaches. The aim is to complete designs for the vessels this fiscal year, with construction starting in either the 2021 or 2022 fiscal year.