- On Tuesday 20 October, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government reported 139 new cases of the coronavirus, up 61 from Monday. On Sunday 132 new cases were reported, down 103 from Saturday.By age group, the highest number of infected cases were people in their 30s (28), followed by people in their 20s (25). The number of infected people in Tokyo with severe symptoms was 24, up one from Saturday, health officials said, which has not changed so far. Nationwide, the number of reported cases was 427, and three coronavirus-related deaths were reported.
- Japan will test measures for preventing the spread of the coronavirus at events with large numbers of spectators in a trial late this month in a baseball stadium in Yokohama packed to near capacity, officials said Thursday. The three-day trial from 30 October comes as the government considers whether to relax current limits on the number of people allowed to attend sporting and other big events.Last month, Japan raised the limit to 10,000 from 5,000 but retained a ceiling of 50% of a venue’s capacity for events with over 10,000 spectators, such as professional baseball games, effective through the end of November.
Holding the trial in Yokohama Stadium was approved by a government subcommittee on Thursday, economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who is in charge of the fight against the virus, told reporters. The 34,000-capacity stadium near Tokyo is to be the main venue for baseball and softball events for the postponed Tokyo Olympics next summer.
The trial will be conducted by the Kanagawa prefectural and Yokohama city governments, as well as by major mobile game developer DeNA Co., whose group operates the stadium as the base of its professional baseball team, the Yokohama DeNA BayStars.
“We want to mobilize the most advanced technologies to present a model and create a path toward the success of the Tokyo Olympics,” Kanagawa Gov. Yuji Kuroiwa told reporters after holding a meeting with DeNA’s founder Tomoko Namba.
Regular games will be played during the three days, with the stadium filled to up to 80% capacity on the first day and possibly 100% on the final day. Using high-precision cameras and beacons, they will look into the flow and density of people entering the roofless stadium in various areas, as well as the percentage of spectators wearing masks.
While the limits on mass spectator events have been kept in place, venues for relatively small events deemed to have lower infection risk, such as classical music concert halls and movie theaters that ban food, can operate at full capacity.
During the subcommittee meeting, the education ministry proposed allowing those who have had close contact with COVID-19 patients but test negative and have no symptoms to sit next year’s unified university entrance exams in separate rooms. The education ministry is trying to make sure that entrance exams are conducted fairly for all students.
“We want (students) to take their body temperatures on a voluntary basis on the day of their exams, and to give up taking the tests and do them later if they have temperatures of 37.5 C or higher,” Nishimura said.
- Japan is considering lowering travel advisories that it issued for all countries and regions in response to the coronavirus pandemic, government officials said Thursday. In late March, the Foreign Ministry’s travel advisories were raised to Level 2 on its scale of four, requesting citizens to avoid nonessential trips as tightened border controls and the imposition of lockdowns raised the risk of becoming stranded.The ministry is thinking of lowering travel advisories that it issues due to political instability or other reasons while maintaining its more specific alerts for infectious diseases such as the coronavirus. Neither is legally binding.
“Recently, more international flights are resuming operations. Border controls have also been relaxed,” a senior official at the ministry said. The ministry may lower the travel advisory to Level 1, asking citizens to exercise caution or lift it completely.
As for more specific travel alerts for infectious diseases, 159 countries and regions are now placed at Level 3, warning against all travel. The ministry is expected to lower the alert by one level for Vietnam and some other countries that have a low number of infections, according to the officials.
Japan is also expected to agree with Chinta to resume travel as early as this month, by both short- and long-term businesspeople between the two countries, Japanese government sources said Tuesday. The nations are looking to revive their coronavirus pandemic-hit economies, the world’s second and third largest, through a restart of two-way business travel.
“Japan and China are extremely important neighbors to each other and there had been many reciprocal trips before the outbreak of the coronavirus,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told a press conference, without specifying when the bilateral agreement will be reached.
“It is extremely important that economic exchanges (between Japan and China) return to a recovery path through the resumption of travel,” Kato said. If reached, the two countries’ bilateral agreement on the restart of short-term business trips will be Japan’s fourth following similar deals with Singapore, South Korea and Vietnam.
- Tohoku University and precision equipment maker Shimadzu Corp. have jointly developed a system that checks exhaled breath to detect novel coronavirus infections. The testing accuracy of the system is about the same as the levels achieved by widely used polymerase chain reaction tests, according to a joint announcement by the university and Shimadzu on Friday.They aim to put the system into practical use within a few years after conducting clinical research for about six months. The system collects exhaled breath from testing subjects for five to 10 minutes to examine the water vapor contained in it.
Analyzing proteins and other substances in the water, the system judges whether they are linked to the virus. The system then determines whether the subjects are infected or not, and estimates the risk of aggravation of their conditions. In their research so far, Tohoku University and Shimadzu have confirmed that the system can detect the virus in breath exhaled by coronavirus carriers accurately.
The system “can also detect many viruses other than the novel coronavirus and, therefore, contribute to the post-COVID fight against infectious diseases,” Tohoku University President Hideo Ono said.
- JR Central on Monday invited media for a test ride of the revised Linear Chuo Shinkansen, its new maglev bullet train service that will link Tokyo and Osaka in record speeds once completed.The new trains, which have been on test runs on the Yamanashi experimental track in central Japan since August, will be able to reach speeds of up to 500 kilometers per hour — around twice that of current shinkansen services.
The interior of the cars employs a bright design based on a white motif, with widened seats and higher backrests to ensure spacious comfort for each passenger. The seats, which use a new style of cushion, are all outfitted with USB charging ports.
In order to reduce vibrations and noise reflected within the train, new materials used for the end cars differ from those used for the other cars. The updated cars now have space to place bags at the foot of each seat.
The revised shinkansen marks the fourth generation model to be designed since full-run test drives commenced on the Yamanashi line in 1997. Compared with previous L0 Series rolling stock, the noses of the end cars are more rounded, reducing air resistance by around 13%. Its weight has also been reduced by utilizing a power supply which generates electricity from coils installed both on the ground and on board.
The maglev train project is viewed as a second high-speed link for the country’s three key metropolises: Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka. “There are many tunnels along the planned line, so we made the inside of the train cars bright and improved comfort,” said an official from Central Japan Railway Co.
Local governments and residents in the central prefecture of Shizuoka are opposing the maglev line construction work, forcing the operator to give up on its original plan to open the new line between Tokyo and Nagoya in 2027.
- Japan’s annual electronics and information technology show kicked off online Tuesday with a focus on cutting-edge technologies and solutions designed to help people ride out the novel coronavirus pandemic.The Combined Exhibition of Advanced Technologies, or CEATEC, is scheduled to be held virtually through Friday due to the virus outbreak after being held at the Makuhari Messe convention center in Chiba, near Tokyo, for the past 20 years.
Ironically, the volume of visitors caused temporary access issues for the exhibition’s website after the opening ceremony, prompting organizers to limit the number of new arrivals to stabilize the site.
“You can experience the exhibition from anywhere at any time because it’s totally online,” Kiyoshi Shikano, the executive producer of the show, said Monday in an online press conference.
Sharp Corp. is showcasing transparent screens that function not only as counter partitions between staff and customers in shops or medical institutions but also can display words and images, allowing them to show information or instructions for visitors.
Alps Alpine Co. is displaying touchless panels with buttons that people can “press” just by hovering their fingers a few centimeters above the screen.
Panasonic Corp. is featuring its artificial intelligence chatbot system “WisTalk,” which was developed to help people working remotely at home by automatically replying to routine inquiries, letting them concentrate on more important tasks. The AI system requires a three-week preparation period to familiarize itself with the employee correspondence routines it will be tasked with completing.
Many online conference sessions will be held over the four-day event to discuss technologies that are expected to be useful in the post-coronavirus world, including one welcoming Eric Yuan, CEO and founder of Zoom Communications Inc. on Tuesday.
Zoom’s video conference technology has become a go-to for people isolated at home around the world during the pandemic.
Yuan said such remote communication technologies have “completely changed” people’s way of life, providing new services including telehealth consultations in which medical professionals can talk with patients via their internet-connected device and even some instances of “zoom marriages.”
In other fields, Toshiba Corp., returning to the event after a six-year absence, is touting its highly accurate cancer detection technology that can distinguish 13 types of cancer from microRNA in the blood in less than two hours.
NEC Corp. is presenting a concept to use its latest facial recognition technology to facilitate seamless travel or shopping. After registering scans of customers’ faces, it enables people to board a plane without tickets or buy items without cash or credit cards.
To make up for the lost face-to-face contact with exhibitors this year due to the online format, visitors can remotely communicate with each company via the chat function on the exhibition’s website, CEATEC organizers said.
The organizers said they received applications from 356 companies and institutions, including 71 from overseas, to join the online event this year, slightly up from 355 last year. More than 200,000 visitors are expected to access the website.
Shikano also said Monday he is considering holding the event in a “hybrid style” next year, making it partially online while trying to secure a physical venue such as Makuhari Messe for exhibitors to still have an in-person presence.
The CEATEC website will be available until the end of the year without the live chat function, letting viewers see the participants’ displays and watch conferences recorded over the four days, the organizers said.
- Wild deer at Nara Park in western Japan, a major tourist attraction, have often suffered from eating plastic bags discarded by visitors, but local companies have now succeeded in developing paper bags that the animals can digest. The deer-friendly bags use paper made with rice bran, and hence poses fewer health risks if they are eaten, according to one of the three developers.”We made the paper with the deer in mind,” said Hidetoshi Matsukawa, president of one of the developers called Naraism. “Tourism in Nara is supported by deer and we will protect them, and also promote the bags as a brand for the Nara economy.”
Plastic bags discarded by visitors are a threat to the deer dwelling in and around the vast park. Last year, masses of tangled up plastic litter and packets were retrieved from the stomachs of several dead deer.
More than 1,000 deer roam in the park and visitors are allowed to feed them with digestive and sugar-free deer crackers, or “shika sembei.” The crackers are sold in nearby shops and do not use plastic wrapping. But some tourists are apparently giving them other snacks taken from plastic bags.
The digestible bags are made of rice bran — an ingredient in the deer crackers — and pulp recycled from milk packages. They are more easily dissolved in water while being less durable than normal paper, according to the firm, based in the town of Tawaramoto, Nara Prefecture.
As the new paper is designed to be as safe as possible for the deer, developing the product involved some problems, such as dealing with the powdery uncoated surface of the paper which had caused printing machines to clog up, Matsukawa, 43, said.
Nara Chuo Shinkin Bank, a cooperative financial institution based also in the town, about a 30-minute drive from the park in the city of Nara, purchased 3,000 of the deer-friendly bags to support the local companies’ efforts, its executive Teruo Nakata said. The bank has been giving the bags to its clients to help them carry documents and they have become a much-talked-about item in the area, the 63-year-old said.
- Some Japanese research institutions developing coronavirus vaccines have been hit by cyberattacks, apparently from China, in what are believed to be the first cases of their kind in the country, a U.S. information security firm said Monday.Amid an intensifying race to develop vaccines against COVID-19, those bodies have been targeted by attacks since April but no reports of information leaks have been made, according to CrowdStrike.
The government’s National Center of Incident Readiness and Strategy for Cybersecurity has urged drugmakers and research organizations to raise alert levels against such attempts to steal confidential information. The U.S. firm did not disclose the names of the targeted institutions, but said it suspects the attacks have been made by a Chinese hacker group, based on the techniques employed.
The attacks involved sending emails attached with electronic files, which seemed to be related to the new virus but contained computer viruses, according to the company. Scott Jarkoff, CrowdStrike’s director responsible for the Asia-Pacific region, pointed out that espionage attempts led by governments have been intensifying as they seek to develop vaccines against COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, ahead of other countries.
Around 190 vaccine projects were in progress as of late September, some of which have entered the final stages of trials, according to data from the World Health Organization and other bodies. In Japan, the University of Tokyo, Osaka University and the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, among others, have joined the race.
The government-sponsored Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development, or AMED, which allocates state funds to support medical research, has adopted 20 vaccine projects conducted by universities and private companies.
Major pharmaceutical firms, including Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. and Daiichi Sankyo Co., have been selected for the agency’s support scheme for COVID-19 vaccine development, which grants up to ¥10 billion to each project, according to AMED. But it is still unknown when the first domestically developed COVID-19 vaccine will see widespread use, while some foreign countries aim to introduce their own by the end of the year.
Masakatsu Morii, a professor versed in information security at Kobe University, said it is a matter of course for information on COVID-19 vaccines to be subject to cyberattacks, as hacker groups tend to steal confidential information that is at the center of attention.
“The Japanese government should provide sufficient support for security, in addition to vaccine development, as it is projected to take a few years before (coronavirus vaccines) will be supplied in a stable manner,” Morii said.
- Japan’s chief government spokesman said on Tuesday the country will put cyberattack countermeasures in place to make sure the Tokyo Olympics are a success. Britain and the United States on Monday condemned what they said were a series of malicious cyberattacks orchestrated by Russian military intelligence, including attempts to disrupt the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.Chief cabinet secretary Katsunobu Kato also told a news conference that Japan was in close contact with the United States and United Kingdom over the issue and was gathering and analyzing information, but did not give further details. British and U.S. officials said the attacks were conducted by Unit 74455 of Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency, also known as the Main Center for Special Technologies.
The 2020 organizing committee said in a statement there was “no significant impact observed” from possible cyber attacks on its operations. The attacks on the 2020 Games are the latest in a string of hacking attempts against international sporting organizations that Western officials and cybersecurity experts say have been orchestrated by Russia since its doping scandal erupted five years ago. Moscow has repeatedly denied the allegations.
An International Olympic Committee (IOC) spokesman said they emphasized cybersecurity. “The IOC and the Organizing Committees of the Olympic Games have identified cybersecurity as a priority area and invest a lot to offer the Olympic Games the best cybersecurity environment possible,” the spokesman told Reuters in an email.
“Given the nature of the topic, we do not divulge those measures.” Britain and the United States said on Monday the hackers were involved in other attacks, such as the hack of the 2018 Winter Olympics opening ceremony in South Korea, which compromised hundreds of computers, took down Internet access and disrupted broadcast feeds.
The attack in South Korea had previously been linked to Russia by cybersecurity researchers but was made to look like the work of Chinese or North Korean hackers, Britain’s foreign ministry said. Other offensive cyber operations allegedly conducted by the GRU officers since 2015, according to the Justice Department, included the global cyberattack known as NotPetya.
In 2017, destructive NotPetya malware spread globally out of Ukraine, infecting and locking up thousands of computers belonging to corporations. Experts say NotPetya caused upwards of $1 billion in losses. At the time, companies publicly affected by NotPetya included FedEx Corporation and pharmaceutical giant Merck.