- The Tokyo Metropolitan Government confirmed 207 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday 18 August, exceeding the 200 mark amid worries that infections are growing once more. The figure, which is up by 46 from Monday, pushed the cumulative tally in the capital to 18,082. There have been 341 deaths in Tokyo and 27 people are in serious condition.The metropolitan government has raised its alert for the pandemic to the highest of four levels, meaning infections are spreading. Karaoke venues and drinking establishments that serve alcohol are also being asked to close by 10 p.m. until the end of this month.Japan confirmed 15 deaths from the novel coronavirus Monday, the highest in a day since the nationwide state of emergency was lifted in late May, as urban areas continue to battle with high numbers of new cases. Daily deaths had mostly remained in the single digits since the state of emergency was lifted, but numbers have risen again in recent weeks.
Japan’s total death toll stood at just above 1,130 as of Tuesday, including fatalities from the Diamond Princess cruise ship that was quarantined in Yokohama in February. Over 640 new cases of novel coronavirus infection were confirmed nationwide on Monday, dipping below 1,000 for the first time in five days.
- Many schools across Japan reopened Monday after a summer vacation that was shortened to allow students to catch up on classes missed due to earlier closures caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The shortest break decided on by municipal authorities was only nine days. Usually, Japanese students take more than a month’s summer vacation.Schools are required to take steps to reduce the risk of heat exhaustion as well as prevent coronavirus infections. Temperatures have risen rapidly in recent days, with the mercury hitting 35 C or above in many locations.Of the 1,794 local education boards across the country that closed elementary, middle and high schools due to the pandemic, 1,710 boards said as of 23 June that they were planning to shorten summer vacations, according to the education ministry.
- Japan was hit by its biggest economic contraction on record in the second quarter as the coronavirus pandemic crushed consumption and exports, keeping policymakers under pressure for bolder action to prevent a deeper recession.The third straight quarter of declines knocked the size of real gross domestic product (GDP) to decade-low levels, wiping out the benefits brought by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s”Abenomics” stimulus policies deployed in late 2012.While the economy is emerging from the doldrums after lockdowns were lifted in late May, many analysts expect any rebound in the current quarter to be modest as a renewed rise in infections keep consumers’ purse-strings tight.
“The big decline can be explained by the decrease in consumption and exports,” said Takeshi Minami, chief economist at Norinchukin Research Institute. “I expect growth to turn positive in the July-September quarter. But globally, the rebound is sluggish everywhere except for China.”
The world’s third-largest economy shrank an annualised 27.8% in April-June, government data showed on Monday, marking the biggest decline since comparable data became available in 1980 and slightly bigger than a median market forecast for a 27.2% drop.
While the contraction was smaller than a 32.9% decrease in the United States, it was much bigger than a 17.8% fall Japan suffered in the first quarter of 2009, when the collapse of Lehman Brothers jolted global financial markets.
The size of Japan’s real GDP shrank to 485 trillion yen, the lowest since April-June 2011, when Japan was still suffering from two decades of deflation and economic stagnation.
The main culprit behind the dismal reading was private consumption, which plunged a record 8.2% as lock-down measures to prevent the spread of the virus kept consumers at home. External demand – or exports minus imports – shaved a record 3.0 percentage point off GDP, as overseas shipments plunged 18.5%, with auto exports hit particularly hard.
Falling global vehicle sales have hurt automakers like Mazda Motor Corp and Nissan Motor Co, among the biggest drivers of Japan’s economy, and their parts suppliers. Capital expenditure declined 1.5% in the second quarter, less than a median market forecast for a 4.2% fall, as solid software investment made up for weak spending in other sectors.
Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura conceded the GDP readings were “pretty severe,” but pointed to some bright spots such as a recent pickup in consumption. “We hope to do our utmost to push Japan’s economy, which likely bottomed out in April and May, back to a recovery path driven by domestic demand,” he told a news conference.
Japan has deployed massive fiscal and monetary stimulus to cushion the blow from the pandemic, which hit an economy already reeling from last year’s sales tax hike and the U.S.-China trade war.
While the economy has re-opened after the government lifted state of emergency measures in late May, a worrying resurgence in infections cloud the outlook for business and household spending.
- Japan on Saturday commemorated the 75th anniversary of its surrender in World War II, with the emperor and empress, the prime minister and a limited number of people attending a ceremony to mourn the war dead that was scaled back due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed not to repeat the tragedy of the war, saying, “We will never forget that the peace and prosperity we are enjoying today are built on the ultimate sacrifices of the war dead.”Abe, who is eager to revise the postwar pacifist Constitution, did not refer to Japan’s wartime aggression, in line with his statements at previous memorial ceremonies since taking office in 2012.
Meanwhile, Emperor Naruhito, the country’s first emperor born after the war, made a rare public appearance amid the pandemic with his wife Empress Masako and expressed “deep remorse” during the annual memorial service, as he did last year.
“Looking back on the long period of postwar peace, reflecting on our past and bearing in mind the feelings of deep remorse, I earnestly hope that the ravages of war will never again be repeated,” he said in his address.
With the coronavirus spreading across the country, the 60-year-old emperor who ascended the throne in May last year has postponed or canceled all of his regular regional tours.
A moment of silence was observed at noon for the approximately 2.3 million military personnel and 800,000 civilians who perished in the war, including those killed in the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The ceremony was held in Nippon Budokan, with around 540 people attending, the lowest on record since the government started holding the event in 1963 and less than 10 percent of the number last year, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.
The attendees wore masks, sat in chairs placed over a meter apart and did not sing when Japan’s national anthem “Kimigayo” was played as part of measures to prevent the spread of the virus. While limiting the number of attendees, the government livestreamed the ceremony for the first time.
- The Tokyo Metropolitan Government will soon introduce a smartphone app to check the health condition of novel coronavirus patients with mild or no symptoms who are staying at home, it has been learned.The shift from telephone calls to an app is aimed at easing growing burdens on public health centers amid the resurgence of cases since July in the capital, metropolitan government officials said.Tokyo has in principle asked patients with mild or no symptoms to stay at designated hotels to rest and recover, saying that they could infect their family members if they stay at home and that their health condition might deteriorate suddenly.
In fact, however, many patients choose to stay at home, citing reasons such as care of children or older people. As of Monday, 745 patients were staying at home to rest while 287 patients were resting at hotels.
An app has already been in use for hotel stayers, who use it to send information twice every day, such as their body temperature, blood oxygen saturation levels and symptoms they notice. Doctors and nurses stationed at the hotels check the information.
The metropolitan government will adopt the system for patients staying at home, too, relieving public health center staff from making telephone calls to check how the patients are.
“Many people don’t answer the telephone,” a senior metropolitan government official said. “The introduction of an app will help cut the time (taken) for the work.”
The official emphasized the importance of reducing burdens on people working on the ground, with the government now having been tackling the virus crisis for an extended period.
- Fujifilm Holdings said last Thursday it expects to complete clinical tests in Japan of Avigan in September and seek approval. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had earlier this year expressed hope to have Avigan approved in May, but a Japanese university’s interim report, released that month, did not indicate clear efficacy of the drug in treating COVID-19.The Philippines started 90-day clinical trials for Avigan on Monday to also study the efficacy of the Japanese anti-flu drug against the disease caused by the new coronavirus. Clinical trials on Avigan will be an “open label, multicenter, randomized comparative study,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said last week, with participants split into two study groups. She also said the clinical trials initially include just four hospitals in Metro Manila, but more will be included in the future.In addition, Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies, a unit of Japan’s Fujifilm Corp., said Monday it will manufacture Novavax Inc.’s coronavirus vaccine candidate in the U.K., starting early next year.
Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies will make up to 60 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine candidate, developed by the U.S. biotechnology firm, for supply to the U.K. at a site in Billingham. The Billingham site is capable of producing up to 180 million doses a year. Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies is considering supplying the vaccine candidate to other countries.
The production in Britain comes after Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies recently started making the vaccine candidate at a site in North Carolina for use in a clinical trial of up to 30,000 subjects in the United States expected to start in autumn.
- The government said Monday that Japan will dispatch a second disaster relief team to Mauritius this week in response to an oil leak from a Japanese freighter that ran aground off the Indian Ocean island nation last month.The seven-member team, including officials from the Environment Ministry and the National Institute for Environmental Studies, will leave Japan on Wednesday to help clean up oil and assist in grasping the environmental damage of the incident, the ministry said.The team will be dispatched at the request of Mauritius and will carry with them items such as sorbents to combat oil spills, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said.
The first relief team, consisting of officials from the ministry, the Japan Coast Guard, and the Japan International Cooperation Agency, has been already in operation since last week.
The Panama-flagged bulk carrier Wakashio, owned by Nagashiki Shipping Co., was carrying about 3,800 tons of fuel oil when it ran aground on 25 July. Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd., the operator of the vessel, said earlier that more than 1,000 tons of oil have leaked from it.
- Japan is planning to keep limiting the maximum number of spectators at concerts, professional sports and other events to 5,000 as the spread of the novel coronavirus continues in various parts of the country, government officials said Friday.The government had initially planned to impose the restriction until the end of August, after the number of people allowed to gather at venues for big events was increased to a maximum 5,000 on 10 July from the previous 1,000.The spread of the novel coronavirus is changing summer traditions in Japan, with new forms of seasonal events emerging thanks to digital technologies. Fireworks events and summer festivals are increasingly going digital. A service enables users to make a virtual visit to their ancestors’ graves.
The 2020 Sumida River Fireworks Festival, slated for 11 July, was canceled in the 43rd year of the event, which draws nearly one million visitors annually. But videos of fireworks in past festivals are projected onto windows of the observatory of the Tokyo Skytree tower, which stands near the venue of the fireworks event.
At the observatory 350 meters above the ground, visitors can see 360-degree views of fireworks in a special service until the end of this month. An official of the tower’s management company expressed hope that the fireworks festival, originally an event to drive away bad illnesses, will be held next year.
Omatsuri Japan, a Tokyo-based company promoting regional revitalization through festivals, will hold an online event Saturday to allow participants to experience eight festivals, including dance festivals Awa Odori in the western city of Tokushima and Kiryu Yagibushi in the eastern prefecture of Gunma.
It will give dance lessons in cooperation with the organizers of the festivals and sell local food and sake through online platforms so participants can enjoy a festive mood. Online festivals may appeal to those who do not like crowded places, not only to elderly people and parents with small children.
Such festivals “may prove useful” to communities struggling to continue local traditional festivals due a lack of participants and funds, said an Omatsuri Japan official.
Last week going partially offline and online, a traditional bonfire festival in Kyoto, western Japan, was held Sunday night on a smaller scale than usual due to the novel coronavirus epidemic. In the Gozan no Okuribi festival, held every year on 16 August, firewood arranged in the shape of symbols and kanji characters is set on fire on mountains.
The religious ritual is meant to send off the spirits of ancestors that have visited their descendants during the Bon holiday period. This year’s event was held with a smaller number of bonfires than usual.
At 20:00, spectators cheered as a fire was lit on Mount Nyoigatake in the Higashiyama district. At the time of the ceremony, people at home could follow the event in a livestream on YouTube.
- A fishery based in northeastern Japan has acquired the world’s first certification for sustainable bluefin tuna fishing, according to the Marine Stewardship Council. The MSC’s blue fish label certifies that Usufuku Honten Co in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, takes full measures to ensure that the endangered bluefin tuna — a popular fish for sushi and sashimi — is sustainably sourced, the London-based body said in a statement.The fishery operates in the eastern Atlantic Ocean, where the population of bluefin tuna has been recovering thanks to conservation efforts, according to the council, an international nonprofit organization promoting sustainable fisheries. The MSC has determined that the fishery’s activities, including its distribution management, meet global standards for sustainable fishing.Sotaro Usui, president of Usufuku Honten, said many products of dubious origin are circulating in the Japanese market and expressed concern over rampant illegal fishing around the world. “We hope this certification leads to a deeper understanding (of the need) for sustainable seafood,” Usui added.
One of the company’s longline fishing boats was subject to the certification. In 2018, the boat caught 55 tons of bluefin tuna. The total allowable catch for that year was 28,200 tons, according to the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas.
Usufuku Honten plans to sell its bluefin tuna products bearing the MSC blue fish label in the Japanese and U.S. markets. Some environmentalist groups argued during the screening process that it is too early to hand out sustainability certifications, as the bluefin tuna population is still in the process of recovering. But the Japanese fishery obtained certification after an independent legal expert assessed that the company’s measures had reflected such concerns.