- The total number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in Japan stood at 16,623 on Wednesday 27 May, health officials said, with a total of 846 people who lost their lives as a result of the disease.
- On Monday 25 May, Japan lifted a nationwide state of emergency over the coronavirus, gradually reopening the world’s third-largest economy as government officials warned caution was still necessary to prevent another wave.
“We had very stringent criteria for lifting the state of emergency. We have judged that we have met this,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a nationally televised news conference. The state of emergency was lifted over the five prefectures that had still been under restrictions — Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba, Saitama and Hokkaido.
Tokyo put forward its coronavirus road map on Friday last week
detailing the city’s three-stage plan to reopen society. The capital, which is aiming to initiate phase two of its plan by this weekend, will incrementally repeal business closure requests for select facilities over the course of several weeks and months based on infection rates or whether they reported any clusters.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has already peeled back voluntary closure requests for libraries, museums and other cultural hubs, and urged restaurants to operate until 10 p.m. instead of 8 p.m. as previously instructed. Public events will be capped at 50 people.
In stage two, select facilities with no history of cluster infections will be urged to reopen and public events will be limited to 100 people. At stage three, all facilities with no cluster history will be asked to reopen, food establishments will be encouraged to operate until midnight and events will be allowed to host up to a thousand people. Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike has said she will decide on Friday whether to move to phase two.
“Lifting the state of emergency marks the end of one chapter and the beginning of another,” Koike said Tuesday during a meeting of the city’s coronavirus task force. “There is still much that needs to be done to truly overcome the novel coronavirus.”
Restrictive measures in Tokyo will be lifted based on seven criteria monitored over a two-week basis, including the ratio of new and untraceable cases and how those numbers compare to the previous week.
The number of hospitalized patients, the amount of patients with severe symptoms, the infection rate among those tested for COVID-19 and the amount of calls and consultations received by coronavirus hotlines will also be considered. Restrictive measures in some municipalities are being peeled back more slowly, while in others they’ve already been lifted completely.
Kanagawa Prefecture is going to lift closure requests for all businesses on Wednesday provided they maintain virus countermeasures after reopening. Saitama Prefecture urged cinemas and pachinko parlors to resume business last Monday, as well as internet and manga cafes for those who work remotely. Closure requests remain in place for most food establishments.
Prefectural schools in Tokyo, Chiba, Kanagawa, Saitama and Hokkaido will begin to welcome students back on 1 June. Until the end of the month, residents throughout the country are urged to avoid travel between municipalities. From 1 June, travel to the last five prefectures released from the state of emergency should be avoided. From 19 June, the government won’t impose any voluntary travel restrictions of any kind on the country’s residents.
- The head of the World Health Organization on Monday called Japan’s efforts in tackling the spread of the new coronavirus a “success.” WHO Director General Tedros Ghebreyesus made the assessment during a news conference in Geneva held in the wake of Japan’s decision to lift a state of emergency in all parts of the nation after it was first declared in early April.
Tedros praised Japan for stemming the epidemic in recent weeks, reducing the spread of infections from more than 700 cases a day at the peak of the outbreak, and for keeping the number of deaths from COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus, at a relatively low level.
But he stressed at the same time that it is important for people in Japan to continue practicing social distancing and other basic precautionary measures, rules that apply to all countries when strict restrictions imposed to fight the virus are loosened.
On Monday, an advisory panel gave the go-ahead to the government’s plan to end the emergency in Tokyo, its surrounding prefectures and Hokkaido, after determining such aspects as the number of newly reported cases over the past week and the availability of medical resources in those areas are satisfactory.
The areas were the last among the nation’s 47 prefectures that were still covered by the state of emergency declaration and the accompanying voluntary restrictions, which requested some types of businesses to shut temporarily and for people to stay home as much as possible.
- Japan’s second supplementary budget for fiscal 2020 to help finance measures to mitigate the impact of the new coronavirus will amount to 31.91 trillion yen (€270 billion), government officials said on Wednesday 27 May. The record extra budget will help cover a package of projects worth about 117 trillion yen, largely to support small businesses hit by the virus pandemic and frontline medical staff. It will be approved by the Cabinet later in the day.
With the extra budget, the government will subsidize rent payments for cash-strapped small firms and individual proprietors, covering two-thirds of them for six months with an upper limit of 6 million yen. The government will also offer 200,000 yen to each frontline worker at hospitals treating coronavirus patients, and 100,000 yen for each member of staff at medical institutions that have secured beds and are prepared to accept them.
Of the 31.91 trillion yen, a reserve fund of 10 trillion yen was earmarked as a reserve fund for potential future countermeasures. The fresh budget will be entirely financed by government issuance of deficit-covering bonds, which will make the country’s debt dependency ratio exceed 50% for the first time since fiscal 2009, following the global financial crisis.
The second extra budget comes after the government set aside 25.7 billion yen under the first one, enacted last month to finance measures such as 100,000 yen cash handouts per person to underpin private consumption. The supplementary budgets will be financed by government issuance of deficit-covering bonds, fueling concern about the country’s fiscal health, the worst among major economies. Japan’s public debt already exceeds 1,100 trillion yen.
But the government has dismissed such concerns at a time of national crisis. “Now is not the time to worry about fiscal reconstruction,” economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura told a parliamentary committee session, adding, “It’s more important than anything else to secure a necessary budget to protect people’s livelihoods, employment and businesses.”
- Crown Prince Akishino’s family and government staff have made 300 medical gowns by hand for medical institutions, the front line of the battle against the new coronavirus.
The gowns were donated to the Saiseikai Imperial Gift Foundation, headed by the Crown Prince, the younger brother of Emperor Naruhito, with handwritten messages to cheer on and express gratitude to medical staff, according to the foundation.
Crown Prince Akishino and Crown Princess Kiko became interested in making such gowns after hearing about protective gear shortages at medical institutions in an online meeting with a senior foundation official and others on 11 May that was also attended by their daughters, Princess Mako and Princess Kako.
The family and Imperial Household Agency staff made the medical gowns out of plastic bags.
On 15 May, 100 of the gowns were delivered to Tokyo Saiseikai Central Hospital, and the foundation’s head office received the remaining 200 on Friday.
“We feel encouraged,” a foundation official said.
In a message posted on the foundation’s website, the Crown Prince expressed his gratitude to the foundation staff and medical workers across the country.
- The Japanese government is looking to revive the tourism industry, a key driver of the economy that has been battered by the novel coronavirus pandemic, by paying for people to go on vacation in the country. Under its Go To Travel initiative, the government will provide subsidies worth up to 20,000 yen per day for people going on leisure trips.
The subsidies will cover half the cost of trips, distributed through a combination of steep discounts and vouchers to be used at nearby restaurants and shops. The initiative is expected to begin as early as late July, applying to bookings made through Japanese travel agencies or directly with hotels or “ryokan” traditional Japanese inns, though the cost of traveling to Japan will not be covered in any part.
The government is eager to jump-start the world’s third-largest economy, which was already flagging following a consumption tax hike last year before the coronavirus and emergency brought business activity to a halt. The tourism industry has been among the hardest hit as many Japanese have stopped going to the office, much less on vacation. Hopes for an influx of foreign visitors this summer were dashed as the Tokyo Olympics were postponed and Japan imposed an entry ban on more than 100 countries and regions.
According to a survey by Tokyo Shoko Research, 31 companies in the accommodation business either declared or were preparing to file for bankruptcy in April because of the pandemic. Some 1.35 trillion yen has been earmarked for the Go To Travel initiative, part of the second support package of 31.91 trillion yen.
Rumors that the government is planning to offer a campaign that would pay 50% of foreign visitors’ expenses were dispelled by The Japan Tourism Agency on Wednesday via Twitter.
- On Tuesday, Major companies such as Hitachi Ltd. and NEC Corp. said they will continue to push work-from-home arrangements even though the state of emergency over the new coronavirus pandemic was called off the previous day.
Hitachi said around 70% of its employees on average have been working from home to reduce the risk of infection and curb the spread of the virus after the state of emergency was declared in April, and it will continue promoting teleworking to ensure business continuity in case a second wave of infections occurs. Hitachi said it will ask its employees to work from home in principle through the end of June, except for such cases as infrastructure inspections. It aims to have 50% of its employees engaged in telework on average as the epidemic subsides, Senior Vice President Hidenobu Nakahata told an online press conference.
NEC also said it will continue to ask employees to work from home, in principle to reduce the risk of infection. If an employee needs to come to the office, the company said they must adhere to anti-infection measures such as avoiding busy commuting hours.
At Meiji Yasuda Life Insurance Co., which reopened its offices nationwide from Tuesday, its 30,000 salespeople will refrain from meeting customers in person and will visit their homes only when customers agree.
Sony Corp., meanwhile, said it will gradually ease its telework requirement from 1 June, a measure taken since late March, as it implements precautionary workplace measures such as social distancing. For the first half of June, it will try to keep the ratio of commuters at 20% or so and raise that level to around 30% from the third week of June. Employees who joined the company in April but were asked to stay home will also be allowed to come to the office in stages from 1 June.