Weekly Update: News on Japan & the Netherlands – Week 24, 2020

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Chief Toru Nishimura and Director Masao Ito of Iwate Chambers of Commerce, preparing for the local delivery of take-out products by taxi to support both taxi companies and restaurants in town.

Update on Japan

  • The total number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in Japan stood at 17,210 on Wednesday 10 June, health officials said, with a total of 916 people who lost their lives as a result of the disease.
  • The House of Representatives approved the draft second extra budget for fiscal 2020 on Wednesday 10 June. The budget of 31.91 trillion yen (€270 billion) will provide additional funding to front-line medical workers and support people reeling from the coronavirus pandemic.The country’s largest-ever supplementary budget, submitted to parliament by the government on Monday and also backed by almost all opposition parties, is expected to clear the House of Councillors on Friday for enactment. Approved by the Cabinet in late May, the fresh budget will finance the government’s new package of programs focusing on assistance for small businesses trying to survive the pandemic and medical workers who have been vital in Japan’s battle against the virus.
  • Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Wednesday that Japan hopes to “take the lead” in a Group of Seven statement on the turmoil in Hong Kong, where China has vowed to impose strict new security laws. “Rightfully, the G7 bears the responsibility to lead global opinion,” Abe told lawmakers in the Diet. “That being said, Japan wants to take the lead in releasing a statement within the G7 (framework) about Hong Kong affairs based on the principle of ‘one country, two systems.’”China has come under fire from Western countries, including the United Kingdom and Japan’s top ally, the United States, over the new laws, which could jeopardize the city’s special autonomy and freedoms. Japan said it was “seriously concerned” with the move on 28 May, the same day China’s rubber-stamp parliament passed the laws. The Japanese Foreign Ministry also summoned the Chinese ambassador to “immediately communicate its strong position at a high-level directly to the Chinese side,” Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said at a news conference Tuesday.The G7 groups Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States. Under the “one country, two systems” principle, Hong Kong was promised it would enjoy the rights and freedoms of a semi-autonomous region for 50 years when it reverted to Chinese from British rule in 1997.Japan has a deeply intertwined economic relationship with Hong Kong, and the ongoing pro-democracy protests and now the national security legislation have unnerved the business community. The city accounted for roughly 2.5% of Japan’s total trade in 2019, making it the country’s ninth-largest trading partner. Some 1,400 Japanese companies have operations in the city.
  • The coronavirus pandemic is posing a serious challenge to the business models of low-cost airlines which have relied on high seat occupancy and aircraft operating rates. As they restart more flights grounded since February, some are using their aircraft for cargo transportation and others are trying to balance infection prevention with profitability until social distancing rules can be safely eased and air traffic demand returns to normal.But some aviation industry experts say that low-cost carriers will likely need to start devising new business strategies instead of just weathering the storm by hoping that demand will eventually come back to levels before the pandemic.”Low-cost airlines have to survive through measures including turning part of their services to cargo flights for a while,” said Tomohiko Nakamura, a professor at Kobe International University versed in the aviation business. “It will take a long time for demand (for passenger flights) to recover to levels before the pandemic. Low-cost flights could well become a thing of the past.”
  • The death rate among novel coronavirus patients in Japan and other parts of Asia has been low compared to that in Western Europe and North America, sparking interest among news agencies and scientists around the world. Researchers in Japan have raised the possibility of there being genes unique to Japanese people that play a factor in such low fatality rates.Keio University, Tokyo Medical and Dental University, and other universities established a research team to study the relationship between genes and the development of severe symptoms due to the novel coronavirus, the group announced earlier in May. The team collects blood samples from about 500 to 600 Japanese people who have contracted the novel coronavirus, including those who showed no symptoms. By analyzing the genome sequences and symptoms of each individual, the researchers aim to identify the genes that are connected to severe symptoms. The team plans to organize their findings around this September.Researchers have investigated the relationship between genes and the development of severe symptoms of infectious diseases in animals. According to Tetsuya Mizutani, professor of virology at Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology, in cases of leukemia caused by viruses seen in cattle, it is starting to emerge that groupings of multiple genes are related to the development of severe symptoms. He commented, “Inclinations toward developing severe symptoms depending on genetic factors may emerge for COVID-19 as well.”
  • SoftBank Group Corp. said Tuesday that 0.43%, or 191, of 44,066 blood samples collected from its employees, medical workers and others in Japan had antibodies for the new coronavirus. The ratio of those testing positive for antibodies was 1.79% among medical workers, higher than 0.23% among employees at SoftBank group companies and their clients.The study also showed some had antibodies despite having tested negative in the polymerase chain reaction test used to diagnose the disease. The tests, which detect signs of past infections of the new coronavirus, were carried out from 12 May to last Monday 8 June on 5,850 medical workers and 38,216 employees at 465 firms, including SoftBank group companies and clients.”When we quickly resume our business operations, we cannot ward off concerns of a second wave of infections. I hope these results would be of help in some ways to contain the pandemic,” SoftBank Group Chairman Masayoshi Son told an online event.The Japanese government also launched antibody tests targeting some 10,000 people, in the hope of grasping the extent to which the virus has spread and assessing the outlook for infection numbers should there be second wave.
  • Taxi operators across Japan hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic have launched hot meal delivery services to make up for their losses after the government allowed them to transport food for profit in April as a deregulation step.Around 1,300 taxi operators nationwide have started delivering hot meals as of 22 May to overcome the hardship brought on by the virus epidemic. In April, when the state of emergency was declared for the entire nation, sales of taxi operators across Japan tumbled 62.1% on average from a year earlier, according to a survey by the Japan Federation of Hire-Taxi Associations.An Osaka-based taxi firm filed for bankruptcy in May, becoming the first case of collapse in the industry related to the new virus epidemic. As the central government is considering making the deregulation step permanent, many taxi companies expect the service, which enables drivers to utilize their spare time effectively, to be a new source of revenue post-pandemic.Tsubame-taxi group in Nagoya, central Japan, has been delivering curry udon noodle, miso (soybean paste) pork cutlet and other major local dishes from about 30 restaurants in the city to customers since late April. Customers are charged between 1,000 yen and 2,000 yen for the food to be delivered, with a maximum journey of 7 kilometers.

    The taxi group company saw its sales nosedive 70% in April from the previous year, after people were requested to avoid unnecessary outings under the state of emergency. “The delivery service doesn’t earn enough to make up for the sales plunge, but we appreciate it as it gives us work,” said Toshiyuki Sawai, vice president of the group’s core company.

    Taxi firms in other areas such as Sapporo, Kyoto, Nagano and Fukuoka have similarly launched delivery services. An official of Kyoto-based MK Co, which began such a service in late April, said the scheme “helps increase drivers’ motivation when there are few customers.” The Iwate Chambers of Commerce has introduced the service as well. The delivery fee will be subsidized by the town, targeting 22 local restaurants in the town to the end of September.

    Food establishments that have also been struggling, in particular high-end restaurants, have pinned their hopes on the taxi delivery service. Tsutamo, a high-class Japanese restaurant located in the busy Sakae district of Nagoya, said its sales plummeted 90% in April from a year earlier but they have started to recover, helped by taxis delivering its “bento” boxed food.

    “The service enables our customers to enjoy the taste of ryotei high-class Japanese food in a casual manner,” said Masao Fukada, chairman of the restaurant operator. The bento delivery service has been popular because it “helps lower the hurdle of experiencing the upscale restaurant compared to visiting the place in person,” Fukada added.

  • It’s been two and a half months since the Tokyo Olympics were postponed until next year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, many ideas about how the Olympics can take place are being floated by the International Olympic Committee, Japanese officials and politicians, and in unsourced Japanese newspaper articles coming from local organizers and politicians. The focus is on soaring costs, fans — or no fans — possible quarantines for athletes, and cutting back to only “the essentials.”No one blames the IOC for not knowing what the conditions will be a year from now. And from the IOC perspective, there is no need yet to speak frankly and possibly alienate Japanese politicians and citizens, sponsors and TV broadcasters, and athletes.The IOC executive board meets on Wednesday and will hear a brief presentation from Tokyo organizers on a remote hookup, explaining where things stand. Few surprises and few specifics are expected. The meeting is behind virtual closed doors, although IOC President Thomas Bach will speak afterward.

Update on the Netherlands

  • The total number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the Netherlands stood at 47,903 on Wednesday 10 June, health officials said, with a total of 6,031 people who lost their lives as a result of the disease.
  • Almost 20% of businesses in the Netherlands were unable to meet their financial obligations in May. One third said they won’t last longer than three months in their current situations, according to a survey of 112 sector organizations affiliated with MKB Nederlands and VNO-NCW.While the situation is still dire for 1/5 of Dutch businesses, there has been some improvement. In April, a 33% percentage of businesses had trouble paying their bills. Despite the recovery, business owners’ outlook is bleak. 88% of businesses said their sector is currently being affected or heavily affected by the coronavirus and measures in place to curb its spread. And 93% said that they expect the coronavirus crisis to have long-term negative effects on their business.The sectors seem to be reasonably satisfied with the coronavirus support measures implemented by the government, with 34% saying that the measures will sustain the sector for another three months, 33% saying six months, and 32% saying longer than six months.
  • Since the public transport runs normally again since 1 June, only 20 fines have been issued to passengers who did not comply with the mask rule, and the occupancy rate remains below 40%. Passengers follow the corona rules in the public transport “so far really well”, BNR Nieuwsradio writes based on figures from industry association OV-NL.As of 1 June, it is mandatory for travelers aged 13 and older to wear non-medical masks in the train, tram, bus or metro. Travelers who do not comply with this can be fined 95 euros.In addition to the mouth mask obligation, the carriers have also had to take other measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus as much as possible. For example, the maximum capacity in the public transport has been set at approximately 40%, to keep the right distance between the passengers. Currently, even less capacity is being used: 30%, OV-NL tells BNR Nieuwsradio.
  • Dutch touring car companies will start transporting groups of up to 30 passengers by bus with immediate effect. This goes against the corona guidelines, but the industry wants to comply with the rules that apply in public transport and on airplanes, a spokesperson for Royal Dutch Transport (KNV) confirms on Sunday after report from Hart van Nederland.Passengers must fill out a health declaration in advance and wear a face mask during the journey. They should also keep 1.5 meters away from others. According to the guidelines, buses/touring cars may carry a maximum of only 13 passengers by bus.According to the spokesperson, the industry does not just recklessly ignore the rules. “The police forbid it because of the emergency ordinance, because passengers have to be able to keep to a distance of 1.5 meters. However, we take even more measures than public transport, and there it is possible. We think it can be done.”It is not clear how many of the companies will start transporting 30 passengers per bus. “All coaches affiliated with KNV are allowed to make their own decision,” said the spokesperson. It is also unclear whether any fines must be paid by the company or the passengers. “That will have to show in practice, but we do not think it will go that fast. There are not many fines in the public transport either.”
  • Hundreds of thousands of employees in the Netherlands will have to wait longer for their expected wage increase this year. Employers are making agreements to postpone salary increases as the coronavirus crisis continues, the Telegraaf reports.Metal and engineering companies already agreed that their planned 3.5% wage increases will be postponed by five months, according to the newspaper. Employers in technical wholesale trade, floriculture and swimming pools are currently negotiating postponement. In total this involves nearly 500 thousand employees. To partly make up for the disappointment, employers are offering workers extra days off in some cases, according to the Telegraaf.
  • The total number of patients with Covid-19 being treated in intensive care on Tuesday 9 June decreased by one to 91. It was the fifth day straight where the number of patients held below 100, according to data from patient coordination office LCPS.There has been a steady decline in ICU patients since the peak on 9 April. On that date there were 1,417 Covid-19 patients, which has gone down over 93% in two months. Some 2,906 people in the Netherlands have required intensive care treatment for the coronavirus disease since early March, of which 839 have died and 1,529 recovered and were discharged, according to data from nonprofit organization NICE.While intensive care cases have gone down and stabilized, the Netherlands has pressed forward with its phased plan to reopen the country. Just one week after the hospitality industry has been allowed to open up restaurants, cafes and bars to a limited number of people, some have decided to close again because their turnover has been too low.Issues include skittish customers who are not ready to patronize cafes, several days of chillier, windy weather, and the higher costs needed to keep locations open. “We have also received signals from catering entrepreneurs that they have closed their business again, because with all the restrictions it has been far from returning to profitability,” a spokesperson for catering association KHN told news outlet Nu.nl.

    The rules as of 1 June state that restaurants are allowed a maximum of 30 people inside at any time, not including workers, but everyone still has to keep 1.5 meters away from each other. Similar restrictions are placed on outdoor areas, with the rules likely to loosen up further from 1 July.

Update on Dujat & Members

  • As was announced in yesterday’s letter from our chairman and managing director, unfortunately this year’s Dujat Trip to Japan has been postponed until next year. Please contact us if you did not receive the letter which was sent by e-mail.
  • Allen & Overy Tokyo Office has recently published an interesting article on recent developments in Japan’s foreign investment regime. The article can be downloaded on our news and information page. This is only accessible for members, so if you lost the login details, please let us know.
  • Concertgebouworkest has successfully organized their first live concert with an audience of 30 people, last Friday 5 June. The concert offered beautiful music as well as hope for what is and will be possible under these circumstances. They will stream a concert live, every Friday from 20:15 via their websiteYouTube and Facebook. Their weekly programme can be found on their website as well.

From now on, we are delighted to introduce this new part of the newsletter where members can share relevant news from their side with our network. This way, we stay updated about each other’s developments from a distance.

If you have any news or updates to share in our next newsletter, please let us know!

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.nlTelegraafJapanTimesJapanTodayMainichiIwate-NPWorldometers