Weekly Update: News on Japan & the Netherlands – Week 19, 2021

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Update on Japan

Japan has extended state of emergency until 31 May, adding Aichi, Fukuoka prefectures

On Friday, Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide said to extend a state of emergency in Tokyo and three other areas until the end of May to stem a surge in novel coronavirus cases fueled by the spread of virus variants just months before the Tokyo Olympics.

The government had hoped a “short and powerful” state of emergency would contain a fourth wave of infection, but new cases in major cities such as Tokyo and Osaka are still at high levels, Prime Minister Suga said, announcing the decision. Extending the state of emergency from 11 to 31 May will leave a margin of fewer than two months before the 23 July start of the Olympic Games.

“There has been a rapid rise in the number of critically ill patients and deaths,” Suga told a news conference, adding that stemming the spread of the virus from the younger population to vulnerable groups including the elderly was crucial. He also noted that variant strains of the virus were spreading rapidly. “We will overcome this in the near future,” Suga said, promising to spearhead the government’s efforts to fast-track vaccinations, aiming to administer 1 million shots a day to the public.

Earlier, Economy Minister Nishimura Yasutoshi, who is also in charge of pandemic measures, said the government was worried Tokyo could also run out of hospital beds soon.

Hokkaido, Saitama, Chiba, Kanagawa, Gifu, Mie, Ehime and Okinawa prefectures will be added to regions under a “quasi state of emergency.”

On Monday, Japan accelerated its rollout of coronavirus vaccines with the aim of inoculating all of the elderly by the end of July amid a fourth wave of infections.

The government will send vaccines to municipalities to administer to over 9 million people in two weeks from Monday, covering a quarter of the nation’s elderly population of about 36 million and plans to distribute vaccines for the entire elderly population by the end of June.

A total of about 390 municipalities will launch the vaccination program in a seven-day period starting Monday, the largest number per week, starting with around 120 local governments on the first day, the health ministry said.

Regarding developments of the vaccines, Takeda Pharmaceutical said on Monday that its domestic clinical trial has confirmed that a COVID-19 vaccine developed by its U.S. partner Moderna helped increase antibodies in everyone who was vaccinated.

An application for authorizing the use of Moderna was submitted to the Japanese health ministry in March. Under a contract with the Japanese government, Moderna will supply 50 million doses by September. AstraZeneca, a British maker of another coronavirus vaccine, had already filed clinical test data in Japan with the Japanese government. The health ministry is working to convene a meeting of an expert panel on 20 May to look at data for both vaccines and decide whether to approve them.

Additionally, Japanese drugmaker Shionogi is also expecting to provide a coronavirus vaccine within the year if conditions are met, its president said Monday. It would be the first domestically produced vaccine for the virus. Shionogi is currently discussing with Japan’s health ministry a framework that would enable the efficacy and safety of the vaccine to be evaluated even with small-scale trials.

The company hopes “to contribute to the early containment of the coronavirus pandemic through the concentrated investment of management resources,” Shionogi President Isao Teshirogi said during a virtual press conference.

It has already completed a production line capable of delivering vaccine doses for 10 million people per year, and plans to further increase capacity.

With just over two months to go, the head of the International Olympic Committee has reiterated that the Tokyo Games will be held safely amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

Thomas Bach referred to remarks made by a senior official of the World Health Organization. Executive director Michael Ryan said on Friday the WHO has confidence that the IOC and Tokyo organizers will make the right decisions regarding how best to manage the risks.

Bach said in a statement on Monday he was encouraged by Ryan’s remarks. He said the IOC will continue to be guided by scientific and medical expertise from around the world in order to organize a safe Games.

Despite the surge in coronavirus cases in Japan, Tokyo continued preparations to host the Olympics and Paralympics in less than three months. The public and athletes are increasingly wary of the idea of holding the games at all, but the government’s focus remains steadfast. Test events have been held at venues that will be used this summer.

Narita airport considers reopening part of its Terminal 2 satellite building that was closed due to the pandemic, sources familiar with the matter said.

The plan to reopen the area in one of the country’s major international gateways reflects an expected recovery in arrival numbers. Narita International Airport Corp will decide when to resume operation of the zone in accordance with the government’s anti-virus measures, according to the sources.

With the closure of the satellite building, passengers arriving at remote areas of the airport currently need to be transferred by airport shuttle buses for quarantine, immigration and customs procedures. Once it reopens, travelers will be able to walk through the terminal.

Sections of both the Narita airport Terminal 1 and 2 buildings were closed in April last year due to a collapse in air travel demand, as well as the government’s declaration of its first coronavirus state of emergency. One runway was also closed for around three months.

A UNESCO advisory panel recommended on Monday that a chain of islands in southwestern Japan with dense subtropical forests be added to the list of natural World Heritage sites, government officials said.

The listing of the 43,000 hectare area, comprising Amami-Oshima Island and Tokunoshima Island in Kagoshima Prefecture as well as the northern part of the main Okinawa Island and Iriomote Island in Okinawa Prefecture, is expected to be officially approved during an online World Heritage Committee session between 16 and 31 July.

The advisory body assessed that the islands are crucial for the preservation of biodiversity and sought protective measures, such as preventing traffic accidents involving animals and capping the number of tourists on Iriomote Island.

The registration of 2020 candidate sites, including the southwestern Japan islands, has been delayed for a year due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Japanese government initially submitted its proposal for the islands, noting diverse ecosystems that are home to rare endemic animals and birds such as the Amami rabbit, the Iriomote cat and the Okinawa rail, to the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in February 2017.

However, it withdrew the proposal in June 2018 on the advice of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, a UNESCO advisory body. The government revised the designated area by including a forest within a former U.S. military site in northern Okinawa that was returned to Japan in December 2016 and reinforced measures against invasive species before resubmitting the proposal in February 2019.

Local governments and residents rejoiced at the UNESCO panel’s decision. If registered, the southwestern Japan islands would become the fifth natural World Heritage site in the country after the Ogasawara Islands, which were added to the World Heritage list in 2011. There are currently 23 World Heritage sites in Japan including cultural properties.

This year’s World Heritage Committee session will evaluate candidate sites for 2020 and 2021. Japan is also awaiting a decision by a UNESCO advisory body on a World Cultural Heritage candidate, the Jomon Era archaeological sites in the country’s north, including the Sannai Maruyama village ruins in Aomori Prefecture dating back around 5,900 years.

The decision regarding the 17 archaeological sites across Hokkaido and Aomori, Akita, and Iwate prefectures is expected to be delivered later this month.

Update on the Netherlands

“Good that it is possible this year: @songfestival in NL with fans at the shows. A Fieldlab with delegation bubbles and access tests to learn how we can safely organize events in the future. An international top performance.” — Health Minister de Jonge on Twitter.

People with a medical condition, who are eligible for an annual flu vaccination, and people born in 1962 are currently eligible for a corona vaccination. They can schedule an appointment online via www.coronavaccinatie-afspraak.nl or call 0800 7070. Make sure you have your passport when doing this — you will need your social security number.

The GGDs are preparing to be able to administer two million corona vaccines per week from the end of May. The Ministry of Health has requested this, a spokesman for the department said Thursday. The GGDs can currently inject 1.5 million injections per week.

Large deliveries of corona vaccines are expected in the coming weeks. The vaccines from Pfizer / BioNTech and Janssen will soon be mainly used. Only one dose of the Janssen vaccine is needed. If more than two million injections can be taken in a week, the hospitals will take care of that surplus, according to the ministry. That is why hospitals are preparing to give half a million injections a week.

The hospitals will not vaccinate structurally, but only if more vaccines have been delivered than the GGDs can handle, said the spokesman for the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport. The help from hospitals can vary per week, because the deliveries are also not even.

If the forecasts are correct, at least eight million people will receive an injection in June. This concerns the bulk of eighteen to sixty-year-olds. Special target groups should have been (partially) vaccinated before. About 5.9 million injections have been given so far. About one million of these involved a second dose.

Outgoing Minister Hugo de Jonge (Public Health) has always said that everyone should have had a first injection at the beginning of July.

If the decrease in the number of hospital admissions continues, the outgoing cabinet plans to extend the opening hours of terraces so that breakfast and dinner can also be served. The terraces may then be open from 6:00 until 20:00, sources from The Hague confirm Tuesday after reporting from the AD.

However, an “emergency brake” will be built in: on Monday 17 May, the cabinet will consider whether the proposed relaxation is actually possible. The terraces are now open between 12:00 and 18:00. Many catering entrepreneurs had also argued for this, especially because the current opening hours are insufficient to cover the costs, according to them.

Earlier it became clear that the cabinet intends to take step two of the opening plan on 19 May. This means that so-called flow-through locations outside such as amusement parks and zoos may reopen. There can also be more sports both indoors and outdoors and certain cultural events are allowed outside again.

The room for relaxation is still limited, but taking the next step in the opening plan next week is possible, says chairman Ernst Kuipers of the National Network Acute Care (LNAZ) on Monday. “We have clearly made the turn and see the curve bending,” said the Erasmus MC director, speaking on behalf of the entire acute care sector.

In the past week, the influx of new corona patients fell by 12%. The total occupancy of hospital beds by people with COVID-19, which is always somewhat behind the influx, has decreased by 6% in a week. “This is a good sign”, Kuipers concludes with satisfaction.

Kuipers thinks it is a good thing that the cabinet is waiting until next week with a final decision on further relaxation of the corona measures, while they originally would make the decision this week.”You keep an eye out for it in case the decline does not continue.”

From now on, GPs and institutions that have leftover vaccines can report this to prullenbakvaccin.nl, a website that went live on Monday. 

That way, People who would like to be vaccinated but not yet have their turn, can be helped anyway. GPs also do not have to throw away vaccines, say the initiators. Incidentally, it concerns very limited numbers of vaccines that remain when a bottle has been opened.

The website has a special map on which people can search for an available vaccine within 20 kilometers of their place of residence. The site then shows the contact details of the GP practice or institution where they can go.

The website is an initiative of doctors who cannot tolerate the disposal of vaccines. “A week or so ago, GP Marco Blanker posted that he had to throw vaccines in the trash”, Marlies Schijven, surgeon at the Amsterdam UMC, writes on social media. “A lot of people indicated that they found that terrible.” Together with a GP in training Bernard Leenstra and software developer Anees Saban, they set up the website prullenbakvaccin.nl in a weekend.

“If I don’t have to throw away any vaccines because of this, that would be great”, Leenstra told the NOS. “I’ve seen very sick people here and it just hurts when you have to throw off vaccines.” The initiative is well received on social media. Leenstra: “I am very happy with that, I see the positive reactions getting out of hand in between office hours.”

Guidelines have been drawn up for residual vaccines, but they have not always been clear. GGDs and GP practices have drawn their own conclusions from this in recent months, whether or not according to the guidelines. “At least those guidelines are now somewhat clearer,” says Leenstra. “About the AstraZeneca vaccine, the KNMG now says that it may be given to under-60s under the strict condition that it concerns spillage and that someone consciously chooses it after proper information.”

That should go without saying, according to Leenstra. “I think it is ridiculous to refuse 60-year-olds that vaccine. It is my job to provide good information about the otherwise extremely rare side effects. All that confusion and unrest should not have been necessary.”

On the first day that the site is up and running, there are only a few GP practices left on the map. “Do not expect that there will be a lot of vaccines on the first day right now,” says surgeon Schijven in her post. “But we expect that many general practitioners will participate very soon, because it is just allowed. And then as few good vaccines as possible disappear in the trash.”

“This idea seems sympathetic, but it is not a sensible idea,” said the Ministry of Health of the initiative. “The vaccines are from the RIVM, they determine the distribution. This is not up to others.” Doctors who have leftover vaccines can have this redistributed via ‘vaccination brokers’ of the RIVM. “RIVM brokers follow the national strategy: the most vulnerable and the elderly first. This initiative does not.” The ministry also points out that few vaccines remain and that there is still scarcity.

This initiative is not intended for that group of vulnerable, ” says Marco Blanker, one of the initiators.” We use leftovers, they are always there and they cannot be named after the group mentioned by the ministry. What we do does not conflict, but rather supports the ministry’s policy. In the sense that we want to prevent even one syringe from being thrown away. So we will continue with it. ”

Schools are allowed to extend teaching days, among other possible measures to make up for corona backlog.

A longer school day for everyone, extra teaching time for certain students and one-on-one supervision are some of the methods that schools can choose to catch up in primary and secondary education. These are options that the Ministry of Education presented on Monday.

Earlier this year, the cabinet decided to invest 8.5 billion euros to make up for the backlog in education caused by the corona crisis. Of this amount, 6 billion euros is intended for primary and secondary education. With the option menu, which has been drawn up in consultation with teachers, educational organizations and scientists, this investment is now being worked out in concrete terms.

It is up to schools to draw up an action plan for the coming year, in which they can choose measures from the list. For each option it is stated what it costs per student and what it is expected to yield. Schools receive a minimum of 700 euros per student. Educational institutions with greater arrears can count on a higher amount.

The menu is online and will be further developed in the near future. Extra attention is also paid to the psychological well-being of students.

Fieldlab: Experiment results show public events can be held safely. Now it’s up to the politics.

After three months, the Fieldlab organization will have sufficient data to advise politicians on the safe organization of events. There are still a few test events on the agenda, but now there is already a clear picture, says the organization.

Events, performances and conferences can be organized safely as long as a number of safety measures are met, says Pieter Lubberts, program manager of Fieldlab, in the NOS Radio 1 Journaal. “We have seen that in certain phases at events where you have fewer contacts, such as a theater or football match, you can even safely let go of the 1.5 meters”

These are so-called type 1 events, which take place indoors, with seats and where the public behaves calmly. A maximum of half of the normal capacity can be used, but people do not need to keep a distance of 1.5 meters. Visitors must be tested beforehand and wear a face mask during transfer. There must also be good ventilation. “But you may still have to do a quick test at festivals, for example,” says Lubberts.

But as encouraging as the outlook is, Lubberts insists that an event during a pandemic will never be 100% safe. “We will never claim that, because there will always be a risk that infectious people will come to an event. But we are looking at how that can be done as safely as possible and we have found that it is possible.”

According to Fieldlab it is now up to politics whether or not to do something with it. “In the meantime, we will continue, because we fight for a sector that employs 100,000 people. But also out of social interest, for people who would like to go somewhere again.”

The safety around the coronavirus at the Eurovision Song Contest is well guaranteed. This was the conclusion of outgoing minister De Jonge after a tour of Ahoy Rotterdam, where the European song festival will be held next week. In recent days, thousands of tests have been conducted among participants, delegations and staff, with only a single positive case detected.

The 38 delegations have been living in a ‘corona bubble’ since their arrival in the Netherlands, so that the risk of an outbreak is limited. That system works “fantastically”, according to De Jonge. “We already had a lot of confidence in the Eurovision organization, but everything shows that they have organized it to perfection.”

3,500 visitors per evening may be admitted to the song festival shows as part of a Fieldlab experiment. The live shows are on Tuesday 18, Thursday 20 and Saturday 22 May.

The number of job vacancies is almost back to the level of before the corona crisis, reports job site Indeed based on its own figures. In the tourism sector too, some vacancies were added in the past month.

At the end of last month, Indeed.com had almost 6% fewer vacancies than was usual during the same period before the pandemic. This means that the vacancy market continues to pick up, after it reached a low point around June last year when there were about 40% fewer vacancies than normal.

According to a spokesperson, the relaxation of the corona measures will lead to new vacancies. “If the recovery continues in this way, it will not be long before we are at pre-corona levels,” she says. Indeed also saw a significant increase in job placement vacancies in the past month, which the company says is a good sign of employment.

Although the travel sector still has more than a third fewer vacancies outstanding than normal, it is in better shape than last month when there were almost half fewer vacancies than usual. The prospect of vacations with a vaccination passport has contributed to this, Indeed thinks.

According to CEO Frank Oostdam of trade association ANVR, a third of the staff in the travel industry has left since the outbreak of the corona pandemic, but because this summer probably only “30 to 50% of the normal number of trips will be organized,” he believes that this will not necessarily lead to capacity problems.

Update on Dujat & Members

Tomorrow, we will go live with the Sports & Nutrition Webinar: 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.nlNOSADJapanTodayNHKNikkei Asia