Weekly Update: News on Japan & the Netherlands – Week 37, 2020

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From left: former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, center, and former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba at the press conference on Tuesday.

Update on Japan

  • 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.

bodemdalingskaart.nl – The color red means a subsidence of 5 millimeters per year.

Update on the Netherlands

  • 5,427 new COVID-19 infections were reported over the past week, RIVM wrote in their weekly update on Tuesday 8 September. That is 1,830 more positive tests reported than the week before that. During the past week, the Municipal Public Health Services (GGDs) reported hospital admissions (current or previous) due to COVID-19 for 43 patients. That is 14 fewer than last week. 17 deaths of laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 patients were reported this week, 7 fewer than the week before. See the news item: Increase in number of newly reported COVID-19 infections.Over 180,182 people have been tested in the GGD test lanes in the past week, compared to 163,572 people in the week before. At the national level, the percentage of positive tests increased this week, rising from 2.2% in the previous week to 2.8% this week. The reproduction number has risen to 1.17. This means that 100 people who are infected with the novel coronavirus will collectively infect another 117 people.
  • The Netherlands’ housing market will take a dip in the next two years, Rabobank expects. The coronavirus crisis will cause unemployment to rise, resulting in the demand for houses declining, and prices falling at least a little, the bank writes in their quarterly report.Rabobank expects house prices in 2021 to be an average of 0.8% lower than this year. And in 2022, house prices will fall another 2.6%. After that, the prices will start to increase again, the bank said.

    The dip will come later than Rabobank first expected. In the previous quarterly report, the start of the dip was already foreseen in the last quarter of 2020. That it takes longer is probably due to the government’s corona support packages. These keep employment, at least among potential home buyers (aged 25 and older), still reasonably stable.

    But people will eventually lose their jobs, or at least worry about losing their jobs, Rabobank said. Investors will also be more cautious. And this will result in sales falling from 220 thousand houses sold this year, to 190 thousand next year.

    The bank also pointed out that a relatively large number of starters, younger people just starting out on the housing market, are buying a house this year. This may be because both investors and people selling their house to buy a new one are more reluctant due to the economic downturn, giving starters more opportunity. The same thing happened at the beginning of the 2008 credit crisis, the bank said.

  • As of Monday 7 September, Schiphol asks travelers to wear a face mask in every area of the airport. Masks have so far only been required at check-in counters, security, passport control and piers, but the airport wants everyone to cover their face from arrival to departure, such as at the shops and around the train station.It is a “very urgent request”, but not an obligation. The government should determine that. “We have asked the cabinet to introduce the rule,” said a spokesman.

    Schiphol says it wishes to follow the guidelines of the European aviation authority EASA and the ECDC, the European equivalent of the RIVM. A general duty of masking should also provide more clarity for travelers.

    In addition, Schiphol will maintain the existing corona measures, such as mudguards and an announcement that reminds travelers that they must keep sufficient distance. Markings for walking directions have also been applied to all floors. Travelers from orange areas can have themselves tested in the special test street.

    The masking obligation also applies in aircraft, but airlines are responsible for enforcing it. Children up to the age of 12 do not need to wear a mask.

  • Houses and bridges are sinking in the Netherlands, in more places and faster than expected. Last week, part of the quay wall on Grimburgwal, close to a University of Amsterdam building, collapsed on Tuesday afternoon. No one was injured. The municipality believes that a sinkhole caused the collapse. The rest of the quay was propped up and the situation is “stable”.On Friday, part of the quay wall on the Minstroom in Utrecht also subsided, a councilor reported to RTV Utrecht. The municipality has stabilized the wall and the situation is safe, said the councilor. They said the cause of the collapse is not yet clear.The soil is subsiding faster and in larger parts of the Netherlands, NOS reports on Tuesday 8 September. Sandy soils, for example, are also affected by subsidence as a result of the falling groundwater level.

    This can be seen on bodemdalingskaart.nl , where, thanks to satellite measurements, subsidence is shown accurately to the millimeter. According to TU Delft, the updated map also shows that the impact on roads, bridges and railway lines is greater than previously assumed.

    “We see a lot of large infrastructure subsiding in all kinds of places”, says Delft professor Ramon Hanssen. Older constructions in particular can be endangered. “We have to start where it is most needed and for that these measurements are very important,” says Hanssen.

    Last week, the Dutch cabinet was advised to do more against soil subsidence in peatlands, but now it appears that homeowners in sandy areas in the north, east, but also in parts of Brabant are also affected.

    Two years ago, there were reports of foundation problems in 60 municipalities, that number has now risen to 180. This is confirmed by the Knowledge Center Approach to Foundation Problems KCAF, reports the Volkskrant.

    Subsidence used to be a concern for residents of houses with wooden posts. “But houses with a foundation of steel or concrete are also experiencing problems these days,” says director Dick de Jong. The KCAF estimates that one million homes are in danger of subsiding. It costs about 70,000 to 80,000 euros to rebuild a house.

    The new subsidence map is accessible to everyone. Hanssen hopes that as many people, companies and organizations as possible will scrutinize the situation in their area. But he does stress that the interpretation of the data can be difficult. “It is therefore wise to let an expert take a look if you want to know what effect it can have on your home.”

  • In the next five years, the government is pushing a total of 20 billion euros into the National Growth Fund, which is intended to fund once-off projects that will make the Dutch economy more resilient in the next 20 to 30 years, Ministers Wopke Hoekstra of Finance an Eric Wiebes of Economic Affairs and Climate announced on Monday 7 September.The fund, often referred to as the Wopke-Wibes fund, is intended for knowledge development, infrastructure, research, and innovation. The fund will have its own budget and an independent committee, which is separate from politics and advised by experts.

    Companies, organizations and other parties can nominate a project with the Ministry it will fall under. The Ministry will officially submit the application to the independent committee for approval. Proposals must need at least 30 million euros. No upper limit was set.

    Hoekstra already said last year that he wants to take advantage of the current low interest rates, which make it cheap for the Dutch government to borrow money. The coronavirus crisis both delayed plans for this fund, and showed how important such a fund is, the Ministers said on Monday.

    “It underscores the importance of building up buffers in good times, so that investments can be made in bad times instead of budget cuts,” the Ministers said. Things like the aging population, climate change, and more limited productivity can also hinder growth for the Dutch economy. This National Growth Fund is intended to be a counter balance for setbacks like that.

    “In order to maintain and increase prosperity for the next 20 to 30 years, the economy must grow faster and differently. That is necessary in order to be able to pay for healthcare education and pensions in the future and also to have money left over for the household wallet,” Wopke and Wiebes said.

    More details about investment plans will be announced at the annual State of the Economy address in February. The Ministers hope to allocate the first projects for funding before the end of the Rutte III government’s term, which ends with the parliamentary elections in March next year.

  • Schools in the Netherlands are worried that they will not be able to get their ventilation systems sorted out before the weather turns cold. As long as the ventilation system isn’t working properly, classroom windows have to stay open to limit the risk of the coronavirus spreading. With winter approaching, this will mean ice cold classrooms, schools fear, the Telegraaf reported.According to estimations, about half of schools’ ventilation systems are outdated or not functioning properly. The lower house of Dutch parliament recently passed a motion for all school ventilation systems to be checked before the start of October. Schools are therefore sparking in getting these systems sorted out, but many worry that they won’t manage it in time to prevent pupils having to suffer from the cold during classes, according to the newspaper.

    General education union AOb confirmed to the Telegraaf that schools are struggling to get their ventilation systems in order. “We hear stories from our members about school books that got rained on because the windows are open wide all day long,” AOb spokesperson Esther Sloots said. “We are concerned about this, especially since the ventilation industry has already indicated several times that it will not be possible to check all systems before October.”

  • Socialist party SP has submitted a bill to increase the statutory minimum wage by 2.5% per year, on top of the usual increase based on collective labor agreements. “In concrete terms, this means that the minimum wage – now about 10 euros per hour – will be 14 euros per hour by 2028,” the party said, According to SP, this will increase the purchasing power of over 2 million workers, AD reported last week.This proposal will mainly benefit people who are at or just above the minimum wage level, including shop staff, care workers, package deliverers, and domestic workers, according to the party. Those who earn just above minimum wage will see their income increase as a minimum wage increase will have a “pushing effect”, the party said.

    Benefit recipients and pensioners will also benefit, as state pension and social assistance benefits are linked to minimum wage. The SP wants to pay for this extra government spending by increasing tax on millionaires and big companies. “As far as we are concerned, it is time for a new economy in which everyone gets their fair share,” SP leader Lilian Marijnissen said.

  • While in August the number of job vacancies in the Netherlands was still a quarter below the level of 2019, there has been a slight recovery compared to the months in the height of the coronavirus crisis. Almost all occupational groups currently have more jobs available than in June and July, ANP reports based on figures from job site Indeed.The hospitality sector, which was hit hardest by the Covid-19 pandemic, had 49% fewer job vacancies in August compared to the same month last year. But in June, the number of vacancies in this sector was 70% lower.

    The demand for salespeople, caregivers, and cleaners increased the most in recent months. In absolute numbers, the profession of baker saw the biggest increase in the number of vacancies, followed by delivery workers and weekend help.

    The Indeed researchers also noted that five of the ten professions that saw the highest increase in vacancies are in the retail sector. According to the site, this shows that shops and supermarkets are recruiting again. The only sector that did not see an increase in vacancies in August was the construction and installation sector.

Update on Dujat & Members

  • The members area on our website has been updated. Those who were not able to attend the Tax & Investment Seminar/Webinar last week can download the presentations from here. The Position Wanted page was also updated with a new candidate profile. If you lost the password, please contact us by e-mail.
  • On this week’s Thursday morning (10 September) we will jointly log in with members from Japan and the Netherlands for our webinar “Workforce of the future – Business opportunities in aging societies“, with speakers from SEO Amsterdam Economics (affiliated with the University of Amsterdam), KPMG and Yakult Europe.Japan is known to be a frontrunner in dealing with an aging population in the workforce. The Netherlands will be facing this as well and is preparing for a changed demographic workforce. In the webinar, we will be addressing this issue from various angles, being it the trends on the economic impact or the impact on productivity. If you missed the invitation, please let us know.

    It is still possible to register for the webinar, which will be hosted on Microsoft Teams. We look forward to welcoming you virtually!

  • If your company has any news or updates to share in next week’s newsletter, let us know via e-mail to vangastel@dujat.nl.

Kind regards,

Jinn van Gastel
Project Manager at Dujat

DUJAT (Dutch and Japanese Trade Federation)

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Sources: Nu.nlNOSVolkskrantTelegraafRIVMJapanTodayKyodo News