Weekly Update: News on Japan & the Netherlands – Week 4, 2021

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Update on Japan

  • Tokyo has revised its contact-tracing strategy to prioritize outreach to higher-risk individuals affected by coronavirus, according to a letter sent by the metropolitan government to public health authorities last week. The change comes as a third wave of the pandemic overwhelms Japan’s public health centers, which handle everything from tests and tracing to finding hospital beds.The scale back on contact tracing is an unfortunate but necessary step as understaffed health centers prepare for COVID-19 vaccinations next month, said Fumie Sakamoto, the infection control manager at St. Luke’s International Hospital in Tokyo. “They have so much work to do right now,” Sakamoto said.”There’s always been a shortage of manpower.”

    Despite its early success, experts have warned that the country’s strategy to trace clusters of cases rather than conduct mass tests could face limits as virus cases surge nationwide. Public health officials and doctors have lobbied for months for authorities to increase testing to ensure early detection and contain the spread of the virus.

    Since infection cases began to rise in November, public health center officials have asked to further narrow their contact-tracing efforts due to staffing shortages. “Regarding epidemiological investigations, each public health center will focus on finding out places and groups that contain people with higher risks,” said the Tokyo metropolitan government’s letter dated 22 January seen by Reuters, referring to the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions.

    Asked about concerns over scaling back efforts to trace the contacts of every person, Naomi Seki, an official at Tokyo metropolitan government’s health bureau, told Reuters the new policy would help public health workers cope with the rising number of coronavirus cases.

    Tokyo’s new daily infections increased to 1,026 on Tuesday, snapping a four-day decline. Neighboring Kanagawa Prefecture has also revised its contact-tracing policy to focus more on high-risk individuals.

  • Administrative reform minister Taro Kono announced on 25 January that a system would be developed in Japan to link COVID-19 vaccination coupons and hospital vaccination information with the “My Number” individual social security and tax number system, to determine who has been vaccinated. The central government will cover the costs of the system and personnel expenses incurred by local governments related to inputting the data.Under the new system, data including the name of the medical facility giving the vaccination, the area where the person lives, the date and type of vaccination and the number of times the person has been vaccinated will be registered with each person’s My Number.

    Not only will this allow the government to monitor the number of residents who have been vaccinated in real time, municipalities will also be able to check the state of vaccinations when people move or if they lose their coupons. It will also be possible to call on people individually to get their second vaccination.

    “We want to get this up and running in time for vaccinations of the elderly,” Kono told reporters. Kono, who is in charge of coordinating vaccinations, stated that a vaccination simulation would begin in the city of Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, on 27 January. “We will first conduct a simulation to determine how much time it will actually take and what kind of arrangement is necessary,” he said.

    Last Friday, Kono walked back on a goal to secure enough targeted supplies of COVID-19 vaccines by June, one month before the planned start of the Tokyo Olympics, telling reporters that “old information” was behind a spokesman’s comments on Thursday that the government expects to have enough vaccines for its targeted population by mid-year. “At the moment, we are making preparations to start vaccination in late February,” Kono said. “We would like to provide information on what will come after that as things firm up.”

    Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has pledged to have enough shots for the Japanese populace by the middle of 2021. But production and distribution problems have hampered vaccine rollouts across the globe, and Japan already trails most major economies in starting its inoculation campaign.

    Kono said Pfizer’s vaccine will be used for the first shots, starting with 10,000 medical workers at 100 hospitals. The next priority after medical workers was to vaccinate the elderly, those with health conditions and elderly care facility workers.

    Japan has made deals to purchase 144 million doses, enough to inoculate 72 million people, from Pfizer. It has also secured 50 million doses from Moderna Inc and 120 million from AstraZeneca Plc. Altogether, that would be more than enough for Japan’s population of 126 million. They require domestic trials for vaccines before granting regulatory approval. Pfizer’s is expected to be approved next month, while Moderna started its first domestic trial on Thursday. AstraZeneca has done a trial in Japan but has not yet filed for approval.

  • Medical workers who will provide healthcare for the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics are facing possible delays in their preparations while the coronavirus state of emergency remains in effect in 11 prefectures. University hospitals and doctors’ associations are tasked with providing on-site medical care for spectators and athletes during the Games.The Tokyo Organising Committee had been scheduled to brief senior medical staff about the status of the preparations this month. But the meeting has been postponed until mid-February. Sources say that medical workers will be given special training online, but no arrangements have been made so far.

    Healthcare workers are voicing concerns about the limited time left for preparations and securing the required number of staff as medical institutions across Japan are busy with coronavirus patients. The committee says it is trying to address their concerns by providing information and by considering financial support to make it easier for medical institutions to send staff.

    Committee member Yamashita Satoshi says that in order for the Games to take place, infections will need to be curbed to a certain level and the stable provision of medical care must be secured. He says he will seriously consider the opinions of the medical community and prepare as much as possible.

  • Airlines that were hoping to turn the corner this year after a rough 2020 may be in for a rude awakening. Major Japanese carrier All Nippon Airways is planning to slash international flights during the summer by 50%. The company will apply the reduction from 28 March through 30 October.ANA will halt flights on 16 international routes, including from Narita to New York, and put the brakes on starting service from Haneda Airport to Istanbul and Stockholm. Pilots will fly smaller planes on the international routes it is keeping to reduce total seating by half. The airline has already suspended or cut international flights by about 80%. ANA could make further reductions if the pandemic continues to restrict travel.

    As a little light in the middle of the negative developments, Japanese airlines have found success in the sale of in-flight meals for those who cannot fly abroad but want to savor them amid the new coronavirus pandemic.

    ANA has sold its meals online three times since last December so people can enjoy them at home. All of its meals sold out within a few days, and the airline plans to add a new dish to the menu from 26 January. Japan Airlines Co. (JAL), meanwhile, has been serving in-flight meals at a restaurant near Narita Airport in Chiba Prefecture, east of Tokyo, and also started selling the fare abroad in January for the first time.

    Meanwhile, in-flight meal manufacturer Gate Gourmet Japan Ltd., based in Narita, began selling Western, Chinese and Thai food online in December 2020. A chef who supervises and cooks in-flight meals for first-class customers on international flights was involved in developing the items. As the precooked meals are vacuum packed, purchasers can easily enjoy genuine airline course meals by boiling the packs.

  • A Japanese court upheld a ban on dual citizenship on Thursday, rejecting a suit that challenged the measure’s constitutionality and sought damages for those affected. Japan is one of around 50 countries internationally, including China and South Korea, that only permits its citizens to hold one nationality.Under current rules, Japanese people who acquire another passport are asked to relinquish their Japanese citizenship, but in 2018 eight plaintiffs started legal proceedings, arguing the rule was unconstitutional. One of them, Hitoshi Nogawa, has told reporters that being forced to give up his nationality was a “painful experience.”

    “I obtained Swiss nationality because my job requires it, but I’m emotionally attached to Japan and this is the foundation of my identity,” the Asahi Shimbun newspaper quoted him as saying.

    The plaintiffs are six men who have already obtained Swiss or Liechtenstein citizenship, and two Japanese men who want to obtain foreign citizenship without losing their Japanese passports, local media said. They argued that the rule was a violation of the constitution’s right to pursue happiness and protection of equality under the law.

    But on Thursday, the Tokyo District Court rejected their suit and request for damages, a spokesman said, upholding the constitutionality of the rule. The government argued there was no national interest in permitting multiple citizenships, Kyodo news agency reported.

  • This year in March, Japan’s Defense Ministry will hold its first contest in which participants compete to show their understanding of cybersecurity and ability to put their skills to work, as the government searches for talent to strengthen the country’s digital defenses.The event will take place online on  14 March, with up to 200 Japanese nationals expected to compete to show their skill and abilities in areas such as computer security system vulnerabilities and information analysis, a ministry official said. The contest comes at a time when countries such as China and Russia are bolstering and deploying their military’s offensive cyber capabilities.

    “The threat of cyberattacks has been increasing and becoming more sophisticated by the day, and it is our pressing task to improve our capabilities,” Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said.

    Kishi expressed hope the contest, for which the ministry accepts entries since Monday 25 January up until 12 February, will help the ministry discover recruits of the highest order. The names or pseudonyms of the top-five finishers will be released on the ministry’s website.

    In its annual white paper released last year, the ministry said “cyberattacks are recognized as an asymmetrical means to impede the military activities of adversaries at low cost.” It also warned bad actors could “seriously impact the lives of individuals” through the destruction of critical infrastructure including power systems.

Minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus of Justice and Security responds to the ‘curfew riots’.

Update on the Netherlands

  • In the Netherlands, 163,931 people have now received a corona vaccine. GGDs have taken 106,886 injections, 40,216 injections were made in hospitals and the counter at healthcare institutions stands at 16,829, according to data from the so-called coronavirus dashboard of the government on Tuesday.The information has been updated until Monday. In reality, the number of injections is bigger. It can take a few days before a vaccination is reported. The dashboard also states how many doses of the approved vaccines the Netherlands expects to receive in the next six weeks. That is more than 1.3 million.

    Moderna and Pfizer vaccines require two injections to be protected against COVID-19. From 27 January, people will be given a second dose of the vaccine. The Netherlands was the last EU-country to start vaccinating on 6 January. The government wants to add more data about vaccinations to the dashboard later, including information about the willingness to vaccinate, the vaccination coverage and the number of doses that are currently in stock.

  • The Dutch government will not turn back the curfew because of riots that broke out every night since its introduction on Saturday. “We are not going to capitulate to a few idiots,” Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra said on Tuesday, NOS reports.Minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus of Justice and Security said the same. “Apparently small groups find it necessary to riot. But that is not because of the corona policy, because you don’t have to raid a shop for that. This has nothing to do with corona, this is crime,” he said.

    Grapperhaus added that the police and Koninklijke Marechaussee are taking tough action against those who participated in the riots. They will be subject to summary judgement and can face unconditional prison sentences, he said. The government is not powerless, he said. According to him, this is evident from the number of arrests that have been made. “We are ready and we are going against it.”

    During the third night of rioting in many places in the Netherlands on Monday, the police arrested a total of 184 people, including over 50 in Rotterdam and 52 in Den Bosch. 1,741 fines were handed out, most for violating curfew.

    On Monday, Prime Minister Mark Rutte condemned the riots, calling them “criminal violence” that had “nothing to do with the fight for freedom”. He stressed that the violence and rioting will not have any effect on the measures in place to curb the spread of the coronavirus. “The curfew remains necessary. It is the virus that is robbing us of our freedom. This criminal violence must stop.”

  • Which role young children play in spreading the new variants of the coronavirus is still unclear, according to the Outbreak Management Team (OMT). An investigation into the outbreak of the B117 variant of the coronavirus at a primary school in Bergschenhoek has not yet been completed, but the results should be available in the course of next week, the OMT said in advice to the government, which broadcaster NOS has in its possession.The government and OMT hope that the Bergschenhoek study will answer the question of whether children play a bigger role in spreading the B117 variant than they do in spreading the original coronavirus. The results of this study will be a determining factor in whether or not primary schools can open again on 8 February. The government wants to make that decision by Tuesday next week.

    In its advice, the OMT also said that source and contact tracing after someone tests positive for Covid-19 needs to be expanded. Currently only the patient’s housemates and people they were in close contact with for longer than 15 minutes at a stretch are warned.

    With the more contagious variants of the coronavirus also popping up in the Netherlands, the team of experts also wants to warn people who had were in contact with the patient a total of 15 minutes or more, even if it was not all at once but spread over 24 hours. People who maintained social distancing of 1.5 meters, but had 15 minutes or more contact with the patient also need to be notified.

    The current advice is for COVID-19 contacts to quarantine. But the OMT wants to change that so that housemates and close contacts are tested as quickly as possible. If they test positive, quarantine will switch to complete isolation. If they test negative, they must quarantine and be tested again after 5 days to be completely sure they don’t have the virus.

    The OMT advised a “visitor bubble” for residents of nursing homes. In such a bubble, nursing home residents are still allowed one visitor per day, but can have up to three regular visitors instead of only one. In this way, visitation is not limited too much for the residents and the risk of bringing the coronavirus into the nursing home is still small, according to the OMT.

  • As of Sunday, anyone traveling by plane to the Netherlands must be able to submit a negative PCR test that is no more than 72 hours old. In addition, passengers must also take a rapid test. This must be less than four hours before departure. If it is positive, that person is not allowed to go on the flight.Pilots and cabin crew are exempt from the rapid test four hours before departure to the Netherlands. KLM, among others, had said this measure would cause them trouble. Fearing staffing problems, they said it is hardly manageable because of the risk that crew members would have to stay behind abroad. It would mean the end of intercontinental flights to Schiphol.

    The OMT, therefore, issued advice for an alternative protocol for aviation personnel, and the cabinet has now adopted that advice. Instead of a quick test, staff are now subject to stricter quarantine rules, write Ministers Hugo De Jonge of Public Health and Cora Van Nieuwenhuizen of Infrastructure in a letter to the Lower House.

    Staff are strictly quarantined during their stay abroad in order not to come into contact with the local population. They should stay in their hotel room as much as possible. Crew members who have corona-related symptoms are allowed to return but must be isolated during the flight.

  • The number of foreign tourists that visited the Netherlands last year decreased by a massive 65% compared to 2019, the Dutch tourism office NBTC said on Monday. A large increase is not expected for this year either, NU.nl reports “We see that people despite the current circumstances have a huge desire to go on vacation,” NBTC-director Jos Vranken said. But few bookings are being made.NBTC worked out three scenarios of what tourism in the upcoming year could look like. In the first scenario which is the best case scenario, traveling from neighboring countries will be possible again in the spring. Then the number of foreign tourists is expected to jump from seven million in 2020 to nine million in 2021, still over half less than in 2019.

    In the second scenario, vacations abroad will become possible again in the summer. Then, numbers are expected to stay at roughly the same level they were at last year. The worst-case scenario predicts that tourism will plummet by another 40%, due to international travel being largely impossible.

    Whichever scenario turns out to be true, “one thing is certain, 2021 will also be a tough year for the sector”, Vranken said.

  • Despite the coronavirus pandemic and its accompanying economic recession, the number of businesses in the Netherlands increased by 68,000 last year, Statistics Netherlands reported. This partly has to do with fewer bankruptcies due to government measures to support companies through the pandemic.At the start of this year, the Netherlands counted 1.92 million businesses, an increase of 3.7% compared to the year before. The pandemic did not have an impact on the growth in Dutch businesses. The increase in companies last year was considerably lower than the average of 5.3% more companies per year between 2011 and 2019.

    The number of small companies with only one employee increased significantly in the past decade, from 888 thousand to 1.5 million – an increase of 69%. Ten years ago 69% of Dutch companies employed only one person, which was 78% in January this year.

    In percentage terms, the education sector saw the biggest increase in new companies at 8.2%, with the number of companies helping children with school work increasing by 9%. The number of healthcare companies also increased relatively strongly last year at over 6%, with home care companies in particularly seeing a big increase (10%). The construction sector also saw a 6% increase in companies in the sector.

    In absolute numbers, the number of companies increased most in the construction industry at 11,700, in trade with 11,600 more companies, and health and welfare with 10,600 more companies. The increase in the number of trade companies is entirely due to a sharp increase in the number of online stores (+13,000). The number of companies in market trade fell by 4%.

Update on Dujat & Members

  • Tomorrow morning we will log in with experts from Baker McKenzie, Jones Day and Dutch Customs for our webinar ‘Brexit: how to cope with it?’. The event is organized in collaboration with JCC and JETRO. If you are interested, it is still possible to register here. We look forward to welcoming you!
  • Our member L&A Lawyers has started organizing breakfast webinars in Dutch language, with upcoming topics vaccination obligation for employees & working from home policy, next week on Friday 5 February 08.30 – 09.30. Participation is free of charge, and registration is possible by contacting arlette.putker@lenaadvocaten.nl.

    Earlier, they also organized a webinar: Working from home – From the ‘new way’ of working to the ‘normal’ way of working?’. This webinar was in Dutch language as well, but recently subtitled in English and available to watch here. The presentation slides in English are also available on the same page.

  • If your company has any news to share in next week’s newsletter, let us know by sending an 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.nlNOSTelegraafJapanTodayNHKKyodo News