- On Monday 10 August, the Tokyo metropolitan government reported 197 new cases of the novel coronavirus, down from the 331 infections confirmed the previous day. It was the first time since 27 July that the figure had dropped below 200, officials said. Of the total, 110, or 56%, are in their 20s and 30s. Monday’s figure brings the cumulative total for Tokyo to 16,064, which increased with an additional 188 infections on Tuesday, the metropolitan government said.
Across Japan, 761 cases were reported, bringing the nationwide total to over 50,000, including about 700 from the Diamond Princess cruise ship that was quarantined in Yokohama in February. In other prefectures, Osaka reported 123 new cases, Aichi Prefecture 102, Okinawa 52, Saitama 42, Chiba 41, Kanagawa 38, Hyogo 26, Hokkaido 13 and Mie Prefecture 11.
In Tokyo, average daily new infections over the last seven days stood at 335.9, according to the city government, which has raised its own alert for the pandemic to the highest of four levels last week, meaning “infections are spreading.” Meanwhile, the number of patients in the capital with severe symptoms increased to 24 from 23 the previous day, according to the metropolitan government.
The city has requested residents to refrain from travel or returning to their hometowns for the Bon holiday season, in order to prevent the spread of the virus. It has also requested karaoke venues and establishments serving alcohol to close by 10 p.m., which came into effect last week and will continue through the end of August.
- Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo says he will work to prevent the elderly and other vulnerable people from contracting the coronavirus to avoid declaring another state of emergency. Abe held a news conference in Nagasaki on Sunday after attending the Peace Memorial Ceremony to remember the victims of the atomic bomb.
He said that while the number of new cases has been rising, not many patients have been hospitalized, and not many are in serious condition. There is also a sufficient number of hospital beds.
He said the pandemic is expected to have a bigger impact on Japan’s economy than the 2008 global financial crisis did. He said the spending package totaling 1 trillion yen, or about 9.4 billion dollars, approved by the cabinet on Friday, will go toward helping small and medium-sized businesses.
He said additional support will be considered for medical organizations, as needed. Abe said the Go To Travel campaign will continue, with the aim of establishing new, safe ways to travel in a world with the coronavirus. Under the campaign, the government helps cover costs of hotels and inns.
The prime minister also called on people visiting their hometowns during the Bon summer holiday period to avoid risky situations, such as meals in big groups.
- Temperatures soared across Japan on Tuesday 11 August, reaching 40.5 degrees in Isesaki, Gunma Prefecture, at 14:30. It was the highest temperature recorded in Japan so far this year as intense heat sent the mercury up in western and eastern Japan as well as the Tohoku region.
Tokyo recorded 37.3 degrees at 14:00. Elsewhere, the temperature rose to 40.4 degrees in Hatoyama, Saitama Prefecture, 39.2 degrees in Koga, Ibaraki Prefecture and 38.9 degrees in Toyama City, the Japan Meteorological Agency said.
The agency issued a warning over heatstroke, urging people to drink at least one glass of water every hour, avoid working or being outdoors for too long and use air-conditioning while sleeping at night. It also cautioned people about removing masks while outside, urging them to be at least two meters away from anyone else when they do so.
- A day after Chinese authorities arrested a Hong Kong pro-democracy media tycoon, prominent activist and a handful of others in a sweeping crackdown on dissent, Japan’s top government spokesman on Tuesday reiterated Tokyo’s grave concern about turmoil in the city but did not ramp up pressure over the issue, instead sticking to well-worn diplomatic language.
At a news conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga did not directly address a question about the arrests of Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai, activist Agnes Chow and the others in one of the most massive crackdowns since Beijing imposed a security law on the city. Instead, Suga merely repeated the government’s boilerplate statement that Tokyo remains “gravely concerned” about the situation in Hong Kong, which he said Japan regards as a “very important partner” in terms of economic and personal exchanges.
The 23-year-old Chow, who speaks fluent Japanese and is popular in Japan, was among a group of prominent pro-democracy activists who earlier this year urged Tokyo to rethink a planned visit to the country by Chinese President Xi Jinping. The visit was originally set for March but has been delayed indefinitely due to the coronavirus pandemic.
News of her arrest triggered a rush of anger on social media Tuesday, with scores of people in Japan and worldwide voicing their support for the pro-democracy leader on Twitter that saw the hashtag #FreeAgnes trend for much of the day.
Anchorperson-turned journalist Jun Hori, who had a remote interview with the 23-year-old activist back in May this year, tweeted along with the hashtag and a video of the interview, “She spoke of the importance of raising voices, out of concern for the future of Japan. This time we should stand up for Ms. Chow and for those who have continued to raise their voices in Hong Kong.”
Japan has found itself in a difficult position responding to the Hong Kong protests and the national security law as it seeks to strike a balance between its economic relationship with China and its growing concerns over security and rights issues. At the Tuesday news conference, Suga said that Tokyo has repeatedly conveyed its position on maintaining the “one country, two systems” principle to its Chinese counterparts.
- Japan’s minister in charge of the coronavirus response has asked prefectural governors to work together to fight the virus. Nishimura Yasutoshi held a teleconference with the governors on Tuesday. He explained the four-stage index proposed by a panel of experts last week.
The approach would use six criteria, including case numbers and the percentage of coronavirus tests that come back positive. The panel says many parts of the country are at stage two, meaning they are seeing a gradual spread.
Nishimura said he expects local authorities to use the index as a yardstick to assess their situation, and take proactive steps to meet local needs. He said he hopes to work together with localities and quickly share information.The minister said the nationwide situation is in a crucial phase. He stressed the need to prevent infections among the elderly, and to secure beds for patients with serious conditions.
Tokushima Governor Iizumi Kamon, who chairs the National Governors’ Association, said paying compensation to businesses is essential to making governors’ requests to close effective. He asked Nishimura to provide additional subsidies.
Iizumi also called for legal measures to put pressure on businesses that reject governors’ requests or refuse to cooperate in contact tracing. Such measures could include penalties on such businesses.
- Japan’s male smoking rate fell below 30% for the first time in 2019, slipping to 28.8%, down 2.3% points from the previous study in 2016, according to a health ministry survey. The national livelihood survey, conducted every three years by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, found that the proportion of women who smoke fell 0.7 point to 8.8% in 2019.Among age groups, those in their 20s marked the largest decrease, for both men and women, with the proportion of men smoking falling by 4.1 percentage points to 27% and the female smokers’ rate dropping 1.9 points to 8.3%. Men and women in their 40s smoked the most, with rates of 37.6% and 13.4%, respectively. Japan’s male smoking rate has been on the decline since hitting 48.4% in 2001.
Growing awareness of the effects of smoking on health is likely to be a key driver of the downward trend. In April, a law banning people from smoking indoors in principle at restaurants, offices, hotel lobbies and other places in Japan open to the general public, also came into effect. The survey of people aged 20 or over counted as smokers those who smoke “everyday” or “sometimes.”
- Japan will buy 120 million doses of AstraZeneca Plc’s experimental COVID-19 vaccine from early next year, its health minister said on Friday 7 August, adding that domestic pharmaceutical firms would help in supplying the drug.
The agreement with the British drugmaker comes after Japan announced a deal last week to buy 120 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine candidate developed by Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE. “I understand one or two doses are effective per person,” Health Minister Katsunobu Kato told reporters. “If each person receives two injections, this would cover 60 million people.”
Japan is the latest country to sign up for AstraZeneca’s vaccine, known as AZD1222, which is under development in partnership with the University of Oxford. The pharmaceutical firm has been in talks with Russia, Brazil and others about supply deals for its potential vaccine.
In a statement, AstraZeneca said it would produce the vaccine substance in Japan with JCR Pharmaceuticals Co, while also importing additional substance from overseas. Daiichi Sankyo Ltd, Daiichi Sankyo Biotech Co, Meiji Seika Pharma Co and KM Biologics Co will support supply in Japan, the company said.
As Japan procures vaccines from abroad, it is also developing its own vaccine for the novel coronavirus, with AnGes Inc and Osaka University working on a DNA vaccine, while Shionogi & Co is working on a recombinant protein type. The University of Tokyo and Daiichi Sankyo are developing an mRNA version.
There are currently no approved vaccines or treatments for the illness caused by the new coronavirus, but about a dozen vaccines from more than 100 candidates globally are being tested in humans.