- On Tuesday 19 January, the Tokyo metropolitan government reported 1,240 new cases of the coronavirus, up 36 from Monday. The tally brought Tokyo’s cumulative total to 87,914. The number (662 men and 578 women) is the result of 6,994 tests conducted on 16 January.By age group, the most number of cases were people in their 20s (282), followed by 211 in their 30s, 192 in their 40s, 186 in their 50s, 104 in their 60s, 92 in their 70s and 69 in their 80s. Also, 88 cases were younger than 20 (28 of whom were younger than 10), health officials said. The number of infected people hospitalized with severe symptoms in Tokyo is 155, up 12 from Monday, health officials said. The nationwide figure is 1,001.
Nationwide, the number of reported cases was 5,295. After Tokyo, the prefectures with the most cases were Kanagawa (737), Osaka (525), Chiba (487), Saitama (421), Aichi (247), Hyogo (218), Fukuoka (200), Kyoto (143), Okinawa (113), Tochigi (94), Hokkaido (92), Ibaraki (66), Gifu (65), Miyagi (61), Gunma (48), Yamaguchi (47) and Shizuoka (40). Seventy-nine coronavirus-related deaths were reported nationwide.
- Japan’s main ruling party has approved a set of draft bills that would penalize businesses and individuals that refuse to comply with measures to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus. The Liberal Democratic Party’s General Council approved proposals to revise three laws related to infection preventive measures on Tuesday.One bill will allow prefectural governors of areas under a state of emergency to ask or order businesses to change their operating hours, and conduct onsite inspections, even before an emergency is declared.
The governors will have the power to fine businesses that fail to comply. Under a state of emergency, the fine could be up to about 500,000 yen (4,000 euros), and up to about 300,000 yen (2,000 euros) in places where “preventative measures” are being implemented. Refusal of an onsite inspection could be subject to a fine as well.
Another bill includes new stipulations that will allow governors to request people who are infected to stay at designated accommodations. If people refuse, governors can recommend they be admitted to a hospital. If they still fail to comply, or if they escape from the hospital, they could face a maximum fine of 1 million yen (8,000 euros) or a prison sentence of up to one year.
One of the three bills is a revision to the quarantine law. The bill stipulates that officials will be allowed to ask people arriving in Japan from abroad to self-quarantine for 14 days in principle. Officials will be able to have people who refuse self-quarantine to stay at facilities. If people fail to comply, they could also risk a 1 million yen fine or one-year prison sentence. The government plans to approve the draft bills in a Cabinet meeting later this week and have them passed swiftly in the current session of the Diet.
- Japan’s Regulatory Reform Minister Kono Taro will lead the efforts to roll out coronavirus vaccines in the country, with the aim of starting by late February. Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide revealed a plan to carry out vaccinations at a news conference on Monday 18 January. He instructed Kono to coordinate the entire process. Suga said the government will do its utmost to deliver safe and effective coronavirus vaccines.The government sees vaccinations as a key to containing the spread of the virus. It aims to make vaccines available by late next month, after checking their safety and efficacy. Kono said authorities need to work as a team in cooperation with the public. He said he will strive to get as many people as possible vaccinated as quickly as possible.
The government hopes to start vaccinations for medical workers around late February and for the elderly in late March, followed by those with underlying health conditions. They plan to step up coordination with municipalities, so they will be able to administer vaccines smoothly to residents. It also plans a public relations campaign to encourage people to get their shots. The government will continue to call on people to cooperate to reduce commuting by 70% and refrain from nonessential outings.
- Japan’s top government spokesman said Tuesday that the widespread distribution of coronavirus vaccines is not a prerequisite for going ahead with this summer’s Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. “We are considering comprehensive measures to hold a safe and secure games, even without making vaccines a condition,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told a press conference.Prime Minister Suga’s administration has remained adamant that the Olympics and Paralympics, postponed last year due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, will be held from late July through early September, despite public skepticism as infections in the country continue to surge. Around 80% of respondents in a Kyodo News survey conducted this month said the games should be rescheduled again or canceled.
Vaccinations are slated to begin in Japan by late February, starting with medical workers, followed by people aged 65 or older from late March, then people with pre-existing conditions and those caring for the elderly. Suga, who turned 72 last month, falls in the second category and will be inoculated when his turn comes, said an official from the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.
Administrative reform minister Taro Kono, who was appointed to lead the vaccination efforts, promised the swift distribution of doses across the country. “I will do everything in my power to ensure safe and effective vaccines can be given to as many people as possible, as quickly as possible,” he said at a press conference on Tuesday. The distribution of the vaccines has various logistical challenges, including the need to store some types at subzero temperatures.
Kono said his job would be clearing those hurdles, but the government’s coronavirus response would continue under the purview of economic and fiscal policy minister Yasutoshi Nishimura and health minister Norihisa Tamura.
Suga has vowed to secure vaccines for Japan’s population of 126 million by the first half of 2021, with the government having agreements with Pfizer Inc., AstraZeneca Plc and Moderna Inc. to receive enough doses for 145 million people.
The Pfizer vaccine, the only one already under review by the health ministry, is expected to receive fast-track approval based on clinical trials conducted in other countries. Tamura said for vaccinations to move forward according to the government’s timeline, approval would need to come in mid-February. “We are making plans with that in mind,” he said at a press conference on Tuesday.
- The Japanese cabinet decided Friday last week to use 741.8 billion yen in reserve funds for fiscal 2020 to increase subsidies for restaurants and bars cutting business hours following the latest emergency declaration over the resurgent coronavirus pandemic.The funding will be provided so that municipalities can offer financial support to operators more easily in return for complying with local requests to shorten their hours, with state subsidies of up to 60,000 yen per day available.
The government increased the upper limit of the subsidy from 40,000 yen when Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide declared the country’s second state of emergency over the virus in Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures last week amid a third wave of infections.
The declaration was expanded on Wednesday to cover a total of 11 prefectures also including Osaka, Aichi and Fukuoka. Under the state of emergency through 7 February, restaurants and bars are asked to stop serving alcohol by 7 p.m. and close their business by 8 p.m. The central government had allocated about 270 billion yen by the end of last year for local governments to provide such subsidies.
The government has set aside a total of 11.5 trillion yen in reserve funds under two extra budgets for the current fiscal year from April to be used in response to the pandemic. Following Friday’s cabinet approval, 5.66 trillion yen remains in the funds.
- To help stem the spread of the resurgent coronavirus, 25 train operators in the the Tokyo metropolitan area will move up their last departure times by around 30 minutes from Wednesday night The schedule change comes after the governors of Tokyo and the three neighboring prefectures of Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama, as well as the transport ministry, made the request earlier this month.East Japan Railway (JR East) will suspend a total of 42 trains on weekdays and 40 trains on Saturdays and Sundays on its 11 lines, which include the Yamanote, Chuo, Keihin Tohoku and Keiyo lines. Other train operators moving up the last departure times include Tokyo Metro and Toei subways, and the Tokyu, Keikyu, Seibu, Tobu, Keio, Keisei and Sagami companies.
The changes are expected to last at least until 7 February, the current end date of the virus state of emergency. Railway operators have already decided to bring forward last train departures in the Tokyo area from this spring. In addition to responding to fewer passengers traveling late at night, they aimed to improve conditions for maintenance staff who work overnight after train services conclude.