Weekly Update: News on Japan & the Netherlands – Week 20, 2020

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Update on Japan

  • The total number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in Japan stood at 15,968 on Wednesday 13 May, health officials said, with a total of 657 people who lost their lives as a result of the disease.
  • The Japanese government is considering to simultaneously lift the nationwide state of emergency declared for 34 out of Japan’s 47 prefectures over the coronavirus on Thursday, after consulting a panel of experts, government sources said last Monday.Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has indicated some prefectures could be taken off the list of those placed under the state of emergency before 31 May. Speaking in parliament, he said Japan is on a “steady” path toward ending the coronavirus epidemic.
  • Governors from Japan’s 47 prefectures across the country used their emergency proposals on Tuesday 12 May, to ask the central government that people do not travel across prefectural borders. They requested that people help contain the coronavirus by refraining from travel even if the government lifts the state of emergency for many prefectures as expected later this week.They also sought additional financial support for industries like the tourism sector that have been seriously affected by the pandemic, asking the help be extended until the crisis passes. On Thursday, the central government is set to decide on whether to lift the state of emergency for 34 prefectures which have seen fewer infections than the other 13 after hearing opinions of experts.

    “It is very important not to draw in people (from outside) in preventing the spread of the virus,” said Tokushima Gov. Kamon Iizumi at the outset of the teleconference of the National Governors’ Association he heads.

    The association urged the central government to disclose the criteria it uses to determine which areas remain under the state of emergency and which do not. It also called on the state to take specific measures to prevent cross-prefectural infection, such as not allowing people to board aircraft when they have a fever and cooperating with railway and other transport operators.

    The proposals also included a request for the central government to continue providing aid to hard-hit industries in the post-state-of-emergency period and to swiftly compile a second extra budget for fiscal 2020 to finance the stimulus.

  • Japan plans to approve its first coronavirus antigen testing kits from Wednesday 13 May, a health ministry official said, in a move to boost the number of diagnostic tests available to battle the pandemic. Fujirebio, a subsidiary of Japanese diagnostics and laboratory testing service provider Miraca Holdings, last month applied for government approval for its antigen kit.Antigen tests scan for proteins that can be found on or inside a virus. They typically test a sample taken from a nasal cavity using swabs. The tests can detect the virus quickly but produce false negatives at a higher rate than the currently dominant PCR, or polymerase chain reaction, tests. Japanese Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said that antigen tests, once approved, will likely be used to supplement PCR tests.

    Japan has conducted 188 PCR tests per 100,000 people, compared with 3,159 in Italy and 3,044 in Germany, data from a panel of medical experts advising the government showed last week.

    Tokyo confirmed 28 new cases of coronavirus infection on Tuesday, marking the seventh straight day the daily tally has stayed below 40.

  • In the global hunt for coronavirus treatments, a Japanese antiviral medicine known as Avigan has won plaudits from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and 14 billion yen (over €120 million) in government funding.Besides Avigan, there is Camostat, a 35-year old pancreatitis drug made by Osaka-based Ono Pharmaceutical Co., that has also captured the interest of scientists in Japan and overseas. The two compounds are among dozens undergoing testing around the globe.

    Abe has called for Avigan to be approved for use by the end of this month if the trials are effective — unprecedented speed, particularly for a drug known to cause birth defects. The use of Avigan is decided by doctors and its approval will depend on medical and scientific evaluation in due course, said Fujifilm spokeswoman Kana Matsumoto.

  • The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare in Japan is set to introduce an online system to manage information on novel coronavirus patients in an integrated fashion, in a bid to reduce the burden on public health centers and to enhance patient support.Medical institutions or patients themselves can input information into the “HER-SYS” system, such as their health condition, which will be shared among public health centers, prefectural governments, the national government and other authorities. A test run will first be conducted at 21 local government bodies, and the rest of Japan will implement the system during May at the earliest.

    Public health centers and others will inform individuals who receive polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests of the system’s URL, their ID and passwords. The user will type in their name, home address, history of travel, symptoms, result of the test and other information.

    People who tested positive for the new coronavirus and are staying at home will be asked to access the system every day and input their health condition. Medical institutions will input information on those who are hospitalized, such as their symptoms and the circumstances surrounding their admission and discharge.

    Furthermore, individuals who came in close contact with coronavirus patients will also receive IDs and passwords, and will be required to type in their health condition. By doing so, coronavirus patients’ information as well as the number of new infections and those released from hospitals can be swiftly collected and widely shared, according to the health ministry. So far, doctors have been filling out information on coronavirus cases and sending the information via fax to public health centers. Workers at these facilities have been inputting the information using computers. Some have pointed out that this method is inefficient.

    The health ministry is also set to introduce “G-MIS,” a system to support coronavirus-related information-sharing among medical institutions. Information on operational status, as well as circumstances surrounding hospital beds and medical staff, stocks of ventilators, masks, protective gear and other items of some 8,000 medical facilities nationwide can be collected and uniformly managed. The system will be used to supply medical equipment and manage the transferring of patients to hospitals.

Update on the Netherlands

  • The total number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the Netherlands stood at 43,211 on Wednesday 13 May, health officials said, with a total of 5,562 people who lost their lives as a result of the disease.
  • The hotel and catering industry (Koninklijke Horeca Nederland, KHN) urges a relaxation of the measure regarding people from the same household to give the catering industry more air in the event of a possible reopening at the beginning of June.KHN wants people who form a household to be able to join tables without having to keep a distance of 1.5 meters.”If they are allowed to walk side by side on the street or sit together in the car, they should be able to do the same in the catering industry,” said a spokesperson in conversation with NU.nl.

    A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice and Security refuses to discuss KHN’s ideas. “Conversations are still ongoing, but from our point of view, all 30 people will have to keep 1.5 meters away, including at the table.”

    In the KHN protocol published on Tuesday, which can still be adapted, the trade association states that a maximum of four people who do not come from the same household may sit at one table or bar without keeping 1.5 meters away. They should be seen as an “exception”, but according to the spokesperson that is not the intention: “They should keep a distance from each other and the rest of the guests.”

    Those who are from one household, regardless of the size of the group, can join together. KHN wants these groups to be exempted from the distance rule. At the end of May, KHN expects new regulations from the cabinet regarding the 1.5 meters rule.

  • Between 25 May and 1 September, there will be no 21% value added tax (VAT) on medical and non-medical face masks. The Ministry of Finance announced this on Wednesday 13 May. As of 1 June it is mandatory to wear a mask in public transport as trains and other public transport will operate again according to the regular schedule. Because travelers in full trains, buses and trams cannot keep a distance of 1.5 meters from others, the Cabinet is offering this temporary discount.On 20 April, the CDA had asked the cabinet to exempt masks and other personal protective equipment from customs duties and VAT. “We are asking society to start wearing non-medical masks on public transport from June onwards. Many people already make very creative masks themselves, but most will probably buy them in a store nearby,” says State Secretary Hans Vijlbrief (Finance) in a comment. “As a government, we naturally want to make this as cheap as possible, which is why we will temporarily levy no VAT on this,” says Vijlbrief.

    Last week Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced that no free masks will be distributed. “The masks that are necessary for the public transport can be made or bought by people. We will make all information available. The expectation is that these costs are not really prohibitive.”

    The zero rate only applies to ready-made masks, the discount cannot be applied to materials with which homemade items are made, such as fabrics and elastic, says a spokesperson for Vijlbrief. There is also no guarantee that the masks will actually become 21% cheaper for consumers, it is up to the sellers whether they also pass on this discount to the buyers.

    Lowering the VAT on masks to 0% is different from an exemption. For example, sellers who still pay VAT when purchasing can settle that amount against the tax. Some tax measures for the medical sector were already relaxed in mid-March.

  • Certification company Kiwa has developed a new quality mark to test companies on the measures they take to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Center Parcs is the first company to receive the quality mark and are able to reopen their  holiday parks. Both companies will announce this on Wednesday.Kiwa says it has developed the quality mark based on the guidelines of RIVM and international standards. The institute has tested the manual that Center Parcs has made against the guidelines, and they will perform regular checks. With the seal of approval in hand, Center Parcs will reopen its first parks after nine weeks from next week.

    Most others will follow at the end of May. “All holiday parks work entirely on the basis of government and RIVM guidelines, and various adjustments have been made,” the company says. The swimming pools will also be reopened, as a time lock will be used, so that measures such as keeping a distance would be sufficiently guaranteed. “The decision to reopen the parks was prompted by the relaxation of the government’s corona restrictions,” said Center Parcs.

    Walking routes have been added, the staff has received additional training, the check-in process has been made fully digital and visitors can disinfect their hands in various places. “We have checked whether the conditions have been met, it also depends on the behavior of the employees and guests,” says the Kiwa spokesperson. “That’s not what the certification is about.”

  • The six largest national culture funds have budgeted an extra 15 million euros to support workers in the creative sector during the corona crisis. This was announced on Tuesday 12 May. The funds that come to the rescue of the creative sector are the Dutch Foundation for Literature, the Performing Arts Fund, the Mondriaan Fund, the Creative Industries Fund NL, the Netherlands Film Fund and the Dutch Cultural Participation Fund.Ingrid van Engelshoven, Minister of Education, Culture and Science, previously announced that 300 million will be allocated to the Dutch culture sector. The 15 million euros that the national culture funds are now making available is in addition to this.

    The funds are normally mainly concerned with providing subsidies to, for example, artists or theater makers. According to the Dutch Cultural Participation Fund, support mainly focuses on projects, work and assignments for people in the cultural sector.

  • The second round of support for companies that were financially hit by the coronavirus crisis will involve more tailor-made solutions, sources have told the Financieele Dagblad. Ministers have been talking to employers and unions to thrash out the new agreement for several weeks and clarity is due next week, the paper said. The current package expires at the end of May.Coalition partners CDA, ChristenUnie and D66, like the VVD, want a new round of emergency aid – probably for another three months – to provide targeted aid for those sectors suffering from the crisis the most, or where it will last longer. Such as for gyms, catering and the travel and events industry. CDA and ChristenUnie also insist on compensation for fixed operating costs, where in the first round the emphasis was on wage subsidy.

    The cabinet has already said that training will become an important part of the new package, as will a ban on dividends and bonuses. According to sources from The Hague, this is not expected to happen this week. It is a complicated puzzle.

    Minister Koolmees of Social Affairs and Employment Incumbent has also stated to remove the dismissal fine from the second support package for companies. “If companies that receive support are not allowed to fire anyone, they will still go bankrupt,” he said.

    The minister is afraid that companies will fall over if they continue to pay staff that they no longer need them in the long run. “For some companies, which is unfortunately the reality, the future looks bleak. Companies should be given the opportunity to adapt to the new reality.”

    The second aid package, which is scheduled to take effect on 1 June, does include a scheme for retraining employees of companies who continue to struggle in the longer term with the consequences of the crisis. People cannot just be fired. “The dismissal law still exists,” says Koolmees. There must be good reasons to dismiss an employee or the company must be in serious financial trouble.

We hope you are all in good health and working conveniently from home. Regarding working from home, tomorrow our virtual workshop will take place from 16:00 where presenters from Many Truths, McDermott + Bull Europe and Solved Nederland B.V. will tell more about remote working, remote working from a Japanese perspective and making your office corona proof.

If you missed the invitation, please let me know. Of course we look forward to be able to organize our events again like usual, but we are pleased to say we have a very interesting programme with future digital events for the coming months.

Kind regards,

Jinn van Gastel
Project Manager at Dujat

DUJAT (Dutch and Japanese Trade Federation)

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Sources: FDNu.nlMainichiJapanTimesJapanTodayWorldometers