Weekly Update: News on Japan & the Netherlands – Week 19, 2020

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Hirofumi Yoshimura Governor of Osaka Prefecture

Update on Japan

  • 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.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte during the press conference, 6 May

Update on the Netherlands

  • The total number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the Netherlands stood at 41,319 on Thursday 7 May, health officials said, with a total of 5,204 people who lost their lives as a result of the disease.
  • The number of Dutch corona patients at the intensive care (IC) continues to decline. There are currently 644 patients on IC. , which is 39 fewer than on Monday, reports the National Coordination Center for Patient Distribution (LCPS) on Tuesday.

    According to Ernst Kuipers, Chairman of the Dutch Network for Emergency Care (LNAZ), the continuing decline at the IC’s offers space to breathe and resume other care. “That will lead to an increase in the number of non-COVID-19 patients in the near future.” On Tuesday it concerned 394 patients.

  • On Wednesday evening the cabinet announced a plan to relax the corona measures for the coming months.

    The measures from Monday 11 May: Contact professions such as hairdressers and nail studios can get back to work, and these will be obliged to work by appointment only for the time being. When making such an appointment, they must ensure that a customer has no complaints that may indicate corona.

    From 1 June: Public transport will run again according to normal timetable. Passengers are obliged to wear a mask, and may risk penalties if they do not follow this rule. Secondary schools open again, in practice that will be 2 June because of the national holiday Pentecost. Terraces will be reopened, with a maximum ten people together.

    Restaurants, theaters and cinemas may also receive customers again. Only by reservation, maximum 30 visitors at a distance of one and a half meters. Museums and monuments are allowed to open from 1 June if visitors purchase tickets in advance.

    From 1 July, they hope to increase the maximum of 30 visitors to 100. It is expected that saunas, casinos, and sports clubs, and contact sports can open again from 1 September.

  • The cabinet is allocating 300 million euros to help the cultural sector. The money is intended to help cultural institutions through the difficult first months of the corona crisis. They can also use that money to prepare for the new season.

    Minister Van Engelshoven is happy with the support package. “Culture matters. It is precisely in this time of crisis that it is clear how important art is: to offer comfort, distraction and hope,” says the culture minister.

    The money is not for all cultural organizations, but for cultural institutions “which are vital”. These are subsidies for the cultural “basic infrastructure” and for institutions and festivals that are supported for several years by the six national culture funds, says the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. Examples are institutions such as the Netherlands Open Air Museum, the Rijksmuseum, Theater Group Maastricht and the Oerolfestival.

    Money also goes to the National Restoration Fund, so institutions can borrow money more easily. Provincial museums, music venues and movie theaters may also qualify for support.

    The cultural sector fears a loss of turnover of nearly a billion euros until 1 June, because museums, theaters and concert and music halls had to close due to the corona crisis.

    The support is separate from the general support package of the cabinet with which institutions can apply for short-time working for employees and self-employed persons can apply for benefits.

  • The directors of city and municipal museums wrote a letter to the culture aldermen in their municipalities, asking to also be remembered in coronavirus aid measures. According to them, the 300 million euros made available by Minister Ingrid van Engelshoven of Culture mainly benefits the state-subsidized museums. But municipal and provincially supported museums, which make up 70% of the sector, are being overlooked, Het Parool reports.

    “If the national government and the large municipalities of the Netherlands which are financially intensively burdened by the corona measures do not join forces, we as municipal subsidized but internationally important museums will not be able to function in the major cultural ecosystems and the museum field will become barren,” the directors of the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, the Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam, the Kunstmuseum Den Haag, and the Centraal Museum Utrecht wrote in their letter.

    “We are indispensable for the makers, for the artists and designers in the cities, for the galleries, for art education, for education per se; for the freelancers who organize exhibitions with us, maintain and restore our municipal collections, produce our printed matter and social media; we also train future curators, educators, and art marketers in the context of talent development. We do this in addition to our role as an urban attraction with a major economic impact. Provided that visitors from outside and in large numbers can come at the same time.”

    Once museums are allowed to reopen again, visitors will have to stay 1.5 meters apart, which means a massive decrease in visitor numbers. Museums therefore expect “to only be able to make exhibitions on a small scale; not or hardly being able to attract sponsors; not to be able to attract tourists and day trippers to our flagships and our cities.”

Thank you for reading our newsletters, we hope they are helpful to stay updated about the situation in both Japan and the Netherlands.

Last night’s press conference from the Dutch government has given us good news, and let us hope we will continue going the right way!

Kind regards,

Jinn van Gastel
Project Manager at Dujat

DUJAT (Dutch and Japanese Trade Federation)

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Sources: NOSMainichiHet ParoolNikkeiJapanTimesJapanTodayWorldometers