Weekly Update: News on Japan & the Netherlands – Week 20, 2021

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Update on Japan

Tougher measures against the coronavirus commenced Sunday in six prefectures in Japan as infections continue to surge ahead of the Summer Olympics.

Hokkaido, Okayama and Hiroshima joined Tokyo and five other prefectures already under a state of emergency to 31 May, while a quasi-emergency currently covering seven prefectures was expanded to the prefectures Gunma, Ishikawa and Kumamoto until 13 June.

With Tokyo hosting the Olympics from 23 July, concerns are growing over the spread of more infectious coronavirus variants and the slow vaccine rollout in the country.

In areas placed under the state of emergency, restaurants are being told to close by 8 p.m. and refrain from serving alcohol or offering karaoke services. Department stores and other major commercial facilities are also being told to temporarily shut or close early, and attendance at concerts and sports events has been capped at 5,000 or 50% of venue capacity.

The move comes as coronavirus cases have been on the rise nationwide in recent weeks, with the daily number of new infections topping 6,000 for the fifth straight day on Saturday. COVID-19 patients with severe symptoms also hit another all-time high of 1,231 the same day. Almost half of Japan’s 47 prefectures have reached Stage 4, the worst level on the government’s four-point scale, for the volume of weekly infection cases per 100,000 people.

Still, Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide has denied the need to declare a nationwide state of emergency, as the National Governors’ Association has suggested, saying the government will take targeted steps in specific areas.

Japan is pushing ahead with up its mass immunization program against the coronavirus.

The Self-Defense Forces are setting up large-scale vaccination venues in Tokyo and Osaka. The sites will be up and operating for senior citizens in need of shots starting next week. Self-Defense Forces Central Hospital Director Fukushima Koji said at a ceremony, “I expect the unit will complete its mission to support vaccinations.”

The newly formed SDF inoculation unit is made up of licensed doctors and nurses. 180 will head to the Tokyo site. 100 will go to Osaka. With the help of civilian nurses, the two venues are eventually expected to administer a combined 15,000 shots a day. The efforts are meant to give a boost to a national rollout that’s lagged behind other industrialized nations. So far, 72% of healthcare workers and only 2.5% of senior citizens have received at least one dose.

Anyone who is eligible can now register for a spot online through the Defense Ministry’s website, and the Line messaging app. As for the Osaka venue, all slots for the first week were fully booked within about 25 minutes on Monday. For now, only those who are 65 years of age or older and living in Osaka City or one of Tokyo’s 23 wards can book a timeslot. But the government plans to expand eligibility in the coming weeks.

Mass vaccinations are also underway by local governments across the country. A vaccination site has been set up on an unused floor of a department store in Yokosuka City in Kanagawa Prefecture. Customers who have vaccination certificates can get discounts at the store.

A unit of Japan’s Fujifilm Holdings Corp said on Tuesday it can develop detection kits for new variants of the coronavirus in about a month. 

In response to concerns over the spread of more infectious strains of the virus, Fujifilm Wako Pure Chemical Corp developed a kit that can identify the L452R variant, first identified in India and California and recently discovered in Tokyo. That adds to kits that can detect two other strains of the virus used by public health authorities as early warning systems for infection trends.

“It’s very important to control the mutant strains in the early stages of their spread,” Okamoto Kuniaki, general manager of the company’s life sciences operations, told Reuters in an interview. Much of Japan is under a state of emergency as a fourth wave of COVID-19 assails the country with about two months to go until the planned opening of the Tokyo Olympics.

Western Japan has been particularly hard hit from a more-infectious strain first discovered in Britain, while Tokyo Governor Koike Yuriko sounded alarm last week about the discovery of the Indian variant in the capital.

Fujifilm Wako’s kit uses reagent chemicals to detect mutations in the SARS-CoV-2 virus and can deliver results in about 100 minutes. The company is focusing on the Japanese market and will look to export the kits depending on demand and regulatory requirements in other countries, Okamoto said.

Known mainly for its camera and office solutions businesses, Fujifilm’s push into healthcare has become all the more apparent amid the pandemic. In addition to developing testing kits, the company is carrying out trials of its antiviral drug Avigan as a COVID-19 treatment.

The company has also invested heavily in Europe and the United States to expand factories involved in making ingredients for vaccines and drugs.

The Japanese government is set to ease prohibition of cannabis-derived medicines.

Following months of discussion, Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare is set to approve the use of pharmaceuticals containing cannabis as an ingredient in Japan, according to public broadcaster NHK.

The Japanese legal system takes a particularly hardline stance against drugs, and even the possession of a small amount of marijuana is generally treated as a major crime. However, following the approval of cannabis-based medicines in many other nations, at the beginning of the year the ministry formed a committee to discuss whether Japan should follow suit, with the effectiveness of such medications in treating sufferers of refractory epilepsy and as a pain suppressant for cancer patients.

The allowance will require amendments to Japan’s Cannabis Control Law, which currently forbids the use and importation of such medicines. Lifting the prohibition would ostensibly also allow Japanese pharmaceutical makers, with proper licensing, to produce cannabis-based medications of their own.

However, this doesn’t mean that the substance is going to be decriminalized in all forms and applications. It’s likely that the revision will allow for the use of cannabis only for specific medical conditions, and “anxiety” may not qualify, given the Japanese medical system’s comparative aversion to treating mental health issues with medication.

Likewise, the lifting of the ban will not allow international travelers to bring as large a supply of cannabis-based pharmaceuticals as they want into Japan, much as how you can’t get through customs with a suitcase full of any other meds that require a prescription within Japan.

It’s also important to bear in mind that the revision appears to be specifically for cannabis-based medicines, not marijuana leaves, and strictly for legitimate medical purposes. Recreational marijuana use in Japan will still get you in as much trouble as it did before, and possibly even more.

Possession and cultivation of marijuana are already crimes in Japan, and the ministry is considering amending the Cannabis Control Law to make the act itself of smoking marijuana a crime as well, at the same time that it lifts the ban on cannabis-based medicines.

A Japanese journalist who was released from detention in Myanmar has given a description of interrogation by the country’s military.

Kitazumi Yuki was taken away by Myanmar’s security police in April while covering a demonstration against the military in Yangon. He was indicted for spreading false information and other charges. He was freed from prison on Friday, for the first time in about a month, and arrived in Japan. On Saturday, he gave an online interview to NHK.

Kitazumi said the military authorities persistently questioned him about the names of people whom he worked with, and of his clients. He noted that when he told them their descriptions of events were false, they tried to force him to admit they were true. He also found that his clear denials had been altered in the military’s case report. He said the authorities didn’t correct those descriptions, saying it is of no use in doing so unless he cooperates with their investigation.

Kitazumi noted the authorities didn’t inflict violence on him as he was a foreigner. But he said many of the local political detainees with whom he talked in prison were hurt, or interrogated for long periods of time while being blindfolded. He said he was able to come out of prison with the help of many people, but there still are more than 3,000 political prisoners, adding that he will disseminate information about the matter in the hope of seeing all of them freed.

Japan’s Myanmar community is supporting the country’s protest movement from afar, fighting for democracy by heading out onto the streets and protesting with signs, flags, and singing songs.

A Japanese startup will soon bring online a refurbished plant that it claims is the world’s sole facility for chemical recycling of plastic bottles.

JEPLAN’s plant in Kawasaki uses chemical recycling, in which used plastic bottles are chemically reduced into monomers, or molecules that can be bonded other identical molecules to form a polymer. This contrasts with traditional recycling, where plastic bottles are washed and melted.

“The same material can be recycled over and over again,” says JEPLAN CEO Takao Masaki.

PET Refine Technology, a subsidiary of container manufacturer Toyo Seikan, had operated the Kawasaki complex since 2009 but it stopped running in 2017. JEPLAN acquired PET Refine Technology in 2018 and began preparations to restart the facility, which includes steel towers, warehouses and silos on roughly 50,000 square meters of land.

After starting trial operations this month, the plant is slated to go fully online this summer. It is expected to churn out 20,000 tons of plastic bottle materials a year. JEPLAN will team up with Asahi Soft Drinks and trading house Sojitz on mass production and hopes to eventually market the system abroad.

Plastic bottles are made from polyethylene terephthalate, commonly abbreviated PET. JEPLAN’s plant will break this down into monomers. Impurities such as leftover beverage and paint will be removed in a roughly 10-step process, which includes absorbing them with activated carbon and distillation.

Typically, recycled plastic bottles are made into other products, including egg cartons, clothing and carpet. The Kawasaki plant, while it was run by PET Refine Technology, supplied plastic bottle materials to multiple beverage companies as the world’s only facility conducting chemical recycling of plastic bottles on a commercial scale. But the cost of the recycled material was several times that of plastic made from crude oil.

JEPLAN intends to improve the various steps, from the selection of materials to the manufacturing process, to lower costs. It will tap the expertise gained from operating a plant in the southern Japanese city of Kitakyushu that chemically recycles apparel-use polyester.

Yahoo Japan has begun providing free AI that checks comments on forums.

The company, owned by Z Holdings, offers a free artificial intelligence technology to clients, including its rivals, that can assess instantly if comments posted in Japanese on online forums are appropriate.

Three companies, including social media-based news website NewsPicks, have adopted the cutting-edge technology that analyzes within a second comments that are posted online. The technology can also be applied by companies to take action to delete inappropriate comments or warn writers of potential defamation.

Yahoo launched the service for free in September but these three companies are the first to adopt it. In the competitive field of technology, it is rare for any company to open up its AI capabilities for free. More than 20 companies have consulted with Yahoo over this technology, and it expects the number of clients to increase.

The AI analyzes words and phrases in Japanese comments, and rates them on a scale of one to 10 on how “constructive” they are and their relevance to the subject or topic. Yahoo has been using this in-house deep-learning technology, which draws conclusions from vast amounts of data, on its Yahoo News online news service since 2018.

The AI is also able to decide if a post is objective or not, and rate those comments accordingly. About 60,000 comments on Yahoo News evaluated by 3,000 monitors were incorporated in the creation of this technology.

Based on the AI analysis, client companies can automatically highlight high-rated posts or remove low-rated content. For now, it will be used to “help detect posts that violate the terms of service,” said a representative for NewsPicks.

Update on the Netherlands

De Jonge in an interview: ‘It is going in the right direction, but caution is still required’

People born in 1963, 1964 and 1965 can now also make an appointment for a corona vaccination. 

They will receive the vaccine from BioNTech / Pfizer or Moderna. It is possible to make an appointment online via the website www.coronavaccinatie-afspraak.nl, or by phone to 0800 7070. Make sure you have your passport when doing this, you will need your social security number (BSN).

According to the RIVM, the 1965 group concerns more than 250 thousand people. The GGD says it is not necessary to wait for the invitation letter.

For Japanese and other non-Dutch speaking members, if you have questions about this, feel free to contact us. It is also advisable to reach out to your HR department.

Numbers positive and relaxations are definitive: from Wednesday zoos and gyms will reopen, and more will be possible again.

The outgoing cabinet gave the green light on Monday for the second step of the reopening plan. This means that on Wednesday, among other things, gyms and zoos can reopen and sex workers can get back to work.

The eases were announced last week, on the condition that they could not go ahead until corona numbers continued to fall sufficiently. On the advice of the OMT, a decrease of 20% compared to the peak in April was used. That percentage has already been achieved in recent days.

It comes as no big surprise that the easing of the measures is now final. On the basis of the corona figures, insiders already told the ANP news agency on Sunday that it looked “positive”. Outgoing Minister Hugo de Jonge (Public Health) stated that the corona figures have dropped by 30% compared to the peak of the current corona wave.

Now that the second step in the reopening plan has been taken, the catering industry may open longer from Wednesday: from 6:00 to 20:00. A maximum of 50 people may still be seated on a terrace and two people (excluding people from the same household) at a table. Outdoor theme and nature parks, open-air museums as well as zoos may also reopen their doors under certain conditions.

Indoor sports venues, including gyms and swimming pools, may reopen. It is mandatory to book in advance and to do a health check. A maximum of 30 people may also be in a room at the same time. In addition, the athletes must keep a distance of 1.5 meters from each other and wear a face mask when they move within the space. Changing rooms must be kept closed, except in swimming pools.

Outside sports in groups is allowed again, up to a maximum of thirty people. Competitions are still not allowed with or without an audience. Outdoor locations for performing arts and film screenings, such as open-air theaters, may also reopen (under certain conditions). Indoor locations for the practice of art and culture, such as music schools, may be reopened. Libraries reopen from 20 May.

Lastly, rental locations for recreational activities are opening their doors again for (example) renting boats, canoes and bicycles.

Almost 7 million euros were reserved for combating crime in the port of Rotterdam and Schiphol Airport.

Outgoing minister Ferd Grapperhaus (Justice and Security) has released the amount to combat undermining crime in the port of Rotterdam and at Schiphol airport. This is a one-off investment, as the current cabinet is outgoing and does not implement any structural expenditure.

The port of Rotterdam will receive 5 million euros and Schiphol 1.9 million euros. For example, for tackling criminals who have found access to the logistical processes and, for example, can allow smuggled drugs through.

The money is used, among other things, for the purchase of high-risk buildings and the better security of sites. Investments are also being made in combating corruption among employees, for example by combating the improper use of access passes.

“We see the underworld and upper world literally converge at container terminals and in the baggage cellars of our seaports and airports,” Grapperhaus writes in a letter to the House of Representatives. “With the help from within, criminals try to smuggle drugs. That is why we want to continue in these places.”

Goods flows reach the rest of the world via these two so-called main ports. Last year, a record amount of more than 40,000 kilos of cocaine was intercepted in the port of Rotterdam.

Combating criminal undermining has long been an important goal of the cabinet. We are currently working on a special team in which customs, the tax authorities, the FIOD and the military police work together with the police and the Public Prosecution Service.

The Dutch economy has entered a recession for the second time since the corona crisis, but it is a slight one this time. 

In the first quarter, the economy shrank by 0.5% compared to the last quarter of 2020, which also contracted by 0.1%, reports the CBS. Two quarters in a row of contraction create a recession.

The contraction is mainly the result of lower expenditure by households and the government. Because companies did invest more and trade increased, the contraction was dampened. Households spent 3.5% less than in the last three months of 2020 as a result of the lockdown from mid-December.

According to chief economist Peter Hein van Mulligen, the first quarter was “dominated by the hard lockdown, with curfews and the closure of non-essential stores”. At the same time, he saw a change in March. “You can see clear signs of recovery during the quarter. People started shopping more often after the partial opening of the stores. In April and May the policy was even looser so the retail sector is already looking better.”

Compared to last year, consumers spent much less in the first three months: -8.5%. CBS (Statistics Netherlands) attributes this to the lockdown that was longer and stricter than a year ago. Consumers spent much less money in the hospitality industry, on recreation and holidays, culture, clothing and shoes, home furnishings and cars.

The government also spent less in the first quarter than in the fourth quarter, but compared to last year this was more, including on government services such as the police, defense and public administration. Expenditure in health care, education and social security was also higher.

The economy was mainly driven by construction because a lot is being built and rebuilt. Industry and business services also generated growth.

The small contraction of the economy was already expected. In Germany, the economy even shrank by 1.7%, while in Belgium and France, there was slight growth. Despite the contraction, unemployment fell and there were more job vacancies again in the first three months of 2021.

The Eurovision Song Contest 2021 has officially started with an opening ceremony at the Cruise Terminal Rotterdam on Sunday. 

The nearly 40 singers from all participating countries presented themselves enthusiastically. Due to the corona measures, fewer reporters have been admitted this year and the artists have to keep their distance from each other. With the exception of a few artists, hardly anyone wore a face mask. The participants were welcomed by, among others, the Rotterdam mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb.

The Netherlands as host country is automatically qualified for the finals of the competition, but it is said that watching the first semi-finals is definitely worth it. For example, on Tuesday evening we see a ‘backup tape’ for the first time and it will be very exciting for Belgium.

Sixteen countries compete for ten final spots on Tuesday evening and the first semifinal has a lot of contenders. The bookmakers are not quite sure who is among the ten favorites. Australia must renounce the performance, because it could not come to the Netherlands.

The back-up tape of singer Montaigne can be seen in the hall and in front of the viewer at home. Never before has it been possible to participate in the Eurovision Song Contest from a distance, so this will be a new and interesting experience.

Update on Dujat & Members

Yesterday we announced good news: one of the first offline Dujat events is ahead of us again if we keep going the right way with the decreasing infections and increasing vaccinations.

We are pleased to announce that on Saturday, 10 July, 2021, we are planning an event with KNLTB (Koninklijke Nederlandse Lawn Tennis Bond) where Dujat members are welcome to witness one of the Amstelveen Open 2021 tennis games while meeting and catching up with other members.

There will still be safety measures to take into account, and we will probably only be able to welcome limited groups at outdoor events, but we are happy that we could finally meet again for face to face networking.

For a smooth and safe organization of this event we would like to get an indication of who will be interested in attending. If you are interested and did not notify us yet, please send an e-mail to vangastel@dujat.nl and let us know.

Official invitations will be sent at a later time once we finalize the programme and when more is clear about what will and will not be possible. For now, take a look at the information available on our website or in the e-mail we sent yesterday.

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)

蘭日貿易連盟 | www.dujat.nl

Stroombaan 10 | 1181 VX Amstelveen | The Netherlands

Sources: Nu.nlNOSCBSJapanTodayNHKNikkei Asia