- The Tokyo metropolitan government on Monday 7 September reported 77 new cases of the coronavirus, down 39 from Sunday. On Tuesday, 170 more cases were added, bringing Tokyo’s cumulative total to 22,019. The number of infected people with severe symptoms was 21, three down from Monday, health officials said.On Monday, the number of reported cases nationwide was 288. After Tokyo, the prefectures with the most cases were Osaka (45), Kanagawa (29), Aichi (21), Okinawa (19), Saitama (14) and Chiba (14). Five deaths due to coronavirus-related causes were reported.
- Official campaigning for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s presidential election began on Tuesday 8 September, with outgoing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s right-hand man vowing to carry on Abe’s policies and two former ministers calling for change as they vie to replace him.The winner will become Japan’s next prime minister, given the party’s dominance of parliament. The three men who filed their candidacies are Yoshihide Suga, 71, who has been Chief Cabinet Secretary for nearly eight years, Shigeru Ishiba, 63, a former defense minister and vocal critic of Abe, and Fumio Kishida, 63, a former foreign minister and currently the LDP’s policy chief.
Abe is stepping down due to health concerns before his term as LDP president ends in September next year. The leadership election will be held next Monday 14 September, and the new prime minister will be installed at an extraordinary Diet session to be convened on 16 September.
Suga, who is widely seen as the front-runner in the race, reiterated his stance to carry on Abe’s policies as someone who has long supported the administration as the top government spokesman. “I will carry on the works of Prime Minister Abe and hope to move them forward further,” said Suga.
He called for eliminating sectionalism at ministries and creating a digital agency as the coronavirus pandemic has underscored the need to facilitate online medical examinations and administrative procedures as well as education using advanced online technology.
While Suga has secured the backing of the majority of 394 LDP lawmakers who will vote, the focus of the election is also on how many votes Ishiba and Kishida can attract as the election serves as a bellwether for the next presidential election to be held by the end of September next year.
Ishiba is seeking a departure from Abe’s policies, saying he wants to reset Japan and “rewrite its blueprint.” The country cannot survive the next era without it, Ishiba said. He said he will decentralize the Tokyo-centric economy and create a disaster management agency, saying the disaster-prone country needs a unified response system.
“I have realized the significance of the ability to listen to the people in politics,” said Kishida. He praised Abe’s achievements in the economic and diplomatic fronts but called for addressing the income gap in Japan, pledging to raise the minimum wage and reduce education costs.
The party has decided to hold an abridged version of the leadership election this time to pick a successor as quickly as possible as Abe is stepping down in the middle of his term amid the current challenges in responding to the coronavirus pandemic.
If the election were held under usual procedures, candidates would have needed to secure a majority of the 788 votes up for grabs, with Diet members and rank-and-file members holding 394 votes each.
But the scaled-down version will be held with the 394 Diet member votes and a total of 141 votes cast by three delegates each from the party’s 47 prefectural chapters. Most of the local chapters are holding primaries.
With the pandemic, as well as a powerful typhoon, hitting southwestern Japan, the candidates will refrain from taking part in debates or from giving outdoor stump speeches. They have instead been presenting their policies online and through appearances on TV programs.
- Typhoon Haishen, a powerful typhoon left two persons dead, four missing and more than 100 injured on Monday 7 September as it battered almost the whole of Japan’s southwestern main island of Kyushu, causing massive blackouts, and disrupting transportation and some mobile networks. Many people were evacuated.Those injured were not only in Kyushu but also in the Kinki and Chugoku regions in western Japan. About 23,000 people in 11 prefectures were taking shelter at one point on Monday afternoon, and some 475,000 houses suffered temporary blackouts in Kyushu.
Even as the typhoon headed for the Korean Peninsula, the Japan Meteorological Agency warned of torrential rain, strong winds and tidal surges in some areas, urging people across a wide area to remain vigilant.
Major mobile carriers NTT Docomo Inc., KDDI Corp. and SoftBank Corp. said their networks were disrupted in areas of Kyushu, as well as the western regions of Shikoku and Chugoku.
- A vaccine is not a requirement for holding next year’s postponed Olympics and Paralympics, the CEO of the Tokyo Games said Friday 4 September. Toshiro Muto was speaking after a task force meeting with government officials, disease experts and Japanese Olympic officials. It’s the first of several high-level meetings dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic as Tokyo tries to figure out if it can hold the Games.“It’s not a prerequisite,” Muto said of the vaccine. “The International Olympic Committee and the WHO already discussed this matter. It’s not a condition for the delivery of the Tokyo 2020 Games. A vaccine is not a requirement. Of course, if vaccines are developed we’ll really appreciate it. And for Tokyo 2020 this will be great. But if you ask me if that’s a condition — it’s not a condition.”
The task force meetings over the next several months will deal with issue like getting athletes into Japan, COVID-19 testing, measures to keep venues safe, anti-virus measures at the Athletes’ Village, immigration issues and the status of fans. A statement outlining the schedule of five meetings said an “interim summary is planned by approximately the end of 2020.”
“As far as spectators, we don’t have any conditions yet, but we’d like to avoid no spectators,” Muto said. Japan is facing a major challenge, with the public skeptical the Olympics can take place — or should take place. Japan has already invested billions, and the delay is likely to cost billions more.
A poll last month of almost 13,000 Japanese companies showed 53.6% want the games canceled or postponed again. The IOC has said if the Olympics can’t happen in 2021, they will be canceled. A poll in July found that two-thirds of the public also favors another postponement or cancellation.
“While living with the coronavirus, we need to make sure that athletes can perform at their best and audiences enjoy the games safely,” deputy chief cabinet secretary Kasuhiro Sugita said at the meeting. “To achieve that, we will adjust border controls, testing and medical systems and the operations of the venues.”
- Tokyo will open Pride House, Japan’s first permanent such center, next month to raise awareness of LGBTQ rights before and during the rearranged Olympic Games in 2021.Although there have been similar initiatives before previous Games, organizers said Pride House Tokyo, which will open its doors on International Coming Out Day on 11 October, is the first to get official International Olympic Committee backing.
“Pride House Tokyo aims to educate the world and also Japan of the difficulties the LGBTQ community has playing and enjoying sports, while helping create a safe space for the community too,” Pride House Tokyo said in a statement on Monday.
It is traditional for most nations competing at the Olympics to have a hospitality ‘house’, where they promote their country and hold parties for winning athletes. Gon Matsunaka, the head of Good Ageing Yells, one of the organisations supporting the project, said Japan lags behind many other developed nations when it comes to LGBTQ rights.
“Many people might think that Japan is a human rights defender, but actually there are no laws to protect LGBTQ people,” Matsunaka told Reuters via email. “Society is filled with prejudice, discrimination and harassment towards LGBTQ community.”
“While we have to change the sports arena, we also hope Pride House Legacy can help change society as a whole as well.” Gay marriage is illegal in Japan and although about two dozen cities, towns and wards issue same-sex partnership certificates, they lack legal standing and prejudice persists.
Fumino Sugiyama, a former fencer for the Japanese national team who now identifies as a man, said little had changed in 15 years since retiring from professional sport. “Even now looking around, there are few LGBTQ athletes that live their lives openly and that is the reality here in Japan,” Sugiyama told a news briefing to launch Pride House Tokyo.
- Japan plans to relax a rule limiting the size of crowds at professional sports, concerts and other events later this month amid signs that coronavirus cases are decreasing nationwide, government sources said.Under the current rule, venues are allowed to hold up to 50% of their capacity or up to a total of 5,000 people. The government is considering scrapping the 5,000-person cap as early as 19 September, the sources said. The plan will be discussed when a panel of health experts meets on Friday.
The relaxation of the rule comes as part of government efforts to revive the pandemic-hit economy. The move would coincide with a four-day weekend in Japan starting from 19 September.
Economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said last month the government might relax the restriction before the end of September if the daily number of new infections substantially decreases.Event operators and spectators will be required to take thorough measures to prevent both the resurgence of the virus and spread of seasonal influenza, said the sources.
Nippon Professional Baseball and the J.League, Japan’s professional soccer league, jointly submitted their request to ease the spectator cap to the government on Tuesday.
The heads of the two leagues said at a joint press conference that they are asking to raise the maximum attendance to 20,000 spectators or 50% of a venue’s capacity, whichever is less.
The government initially planned to ease the limit on 1 August, but it was later extended to the end of August and then to the end of this month as the country struggled to contain the virus.
At Friday’s meeting, the health experts may also discuss whether the government can add trips to and from Tokyo to its travel subsidy campaign, according to the sources. Such trips have been excluded from the controversial Go To travel campaign, launched in July to revive the domestic tourism industry, as the capital has seen a much higher number of daily infections than other prefectures.
As part of measures to fight the virus, the cabinet decided Tuesday to use 671.4 billion yen in reserve funds to purchase coronavirus vaccines currently being developed by drugmakers, Finance Minister Taro Aso told a press conference.
- Japan’s economy sank deeper into its worst postwar contraction in the second quarter as the coronavirus jolted businesses more than initially thought, underscoring the daunting task the new prime minister faces in averting a steeper recession.Other data put that challenge in perspective, with household spending and wages falling in July as the impact of the pandemic kept consumption frail even after lockdown measures were lifted in May.
The world’s third-largest economy shrank an annualised 28.1% in April-June, more than a preliminary reading of a 27.8% contraction, revised gross domestic product (GDP) data showed on Tuesday, suffering its worst postwar contraction.
The data will put the new prime minister, to be elected in a ruling party leadership race on 14 September, under pressure to take bolder economic support measures.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, the frontrunner to become next premier, has signaled his readiness to boost spending if he were to lead the country.
“The risk ahead is that the effect of measures taken so far, such as pay-outs to households, will peter out,” said Koichi Fujishiro, an economist at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute. “If COVID-19 weighs heavily on wages, the new administration could take additional steps to help households.”
Japan’s economy has shown some signs of life after suffering three straight quarters of contraction, with factory output rising in July at the fastest pace on record thanks to rebounding demand for automobiles.
Yet separate data on Tuesday suggested any recovery will likely be modest, as household spending fell a bigger-than-expected 7.6% in July year-on-year, while real wages declined for the fifth straight month, pointing to more pressure on consumer spending.
The health crisis has ravaged a broad array of sectors, with firms such as automaker Honda Motor Co forecasting a 68% decrease in annual operating profit.
Analysts polled by Reuters in August said they expect the economy to shrink 5.6% in the current fiscal year to next March, and grow just 3.3% the following year.
The global and domestic business climate has many Japan observers predicting a long and bumpy road to returning the economy to pre-COVID levels. “It will probably take a long time for the economy to normalize and return to levels before the pandemic,” said Yoshiki Shinke, chief economist at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute.
- The Japanese government is considering offering COVID-19 vaccinations for free to all residents to limit the number of deaths and people developing severe symptoms in the country, sources close to the matter said Wednesday.The government aims to have as many people as possible receive the vaccine since the virus is characterized as being very contagious and having a high risk of causing severe symptoms to people infected with it, the sources said.
Last week, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the government wants to secure vaccines for all citizens by the first half of 2021 as part of a set of measures against the virus, which causes the COVID-19 respiratory illness.
Under a plan that is currently being discussed, the government is considering prioritizing medical workers, the elderly and people who have underlying illnesses. Municipalities will be in charge of offering the vaccinations, the sources said. Vaccines against the virus have been under development in many countries, with some now in the clinical trial stage.
Since there are no data from the trials showing the effectiveness or the degree of side effects depending on the age or health conditions of those vaccinated, some government officials have been opposed to differentiating the financial burden among people.
The government is considering having the vaccine purchases be financed by reserve funds from the budget for the current fiscal year to March 2021.
Health minister Katsunobu Kato said Wednesday the government has been discussing how to create a necessary system to administer the vaccines. “We will draw a conclusion about the financial support depending on our discussions and the nature of the vaccines,” he added.
Kato said Tuesday that Japan will join an international framework, co-led by the World Health Organization, which aims to guarantee equitable global access to potential vaccines.
A government panel of health experts, however, has indicated the difficulty of developing an effective vaccine, saying, “There is no guarantee that an ideal vaccine will be created in terms of both safety and effectiveness.”
The government is also expected to decide how to cover the cost of compensation that vaccine manufacturers may face if health issues occur before the shots will be offered to people.