Weekly Update: News on Japan & the Netherlands – Week 44, 2020

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Akihiko Tamura, President & CEO of Narita International Airport Corp. (left) and Atsuhiro Sakamoto, Head of Nippon Medical School Foundation (right) at press conference on 22 Oct. | TBS NEWS

Update on Japan

  • The Tokyo Metropolitan Government on Tuesday 27 October reported 158 new cases of the coronavirus, which is 56 fmore than Monday. The number is the result of 2,449 tests conducted on 24 October. The tally brought Tokyo’s cumulative total to 30,285. The number of infected people in Tokyo with severe symptoms is 33, up four from Monday, health officials said.

    Nationwide, the number of reported cases was 629. After Tokyo, the prefectures with the most number of cases were Osaka (142), Kanagawa (64), Miyagi (45), Chiba (44), Aichi (35), Saitama (29), Hokkaido (27) and Okinawa (23). Four coronavirus-related deaths were reported.

  • Tumbling numbers of pregnancies and marriages in Japan during the coronavirus pandemic are likely to intensify a demographic crisis in the rapidly aging nation. Japan has the most aged society in the world, with more than 35% of its population expected to be 65 and over by 2050, a trend that poses risks for economic growth and straining government finances.

    “I think the spread of the coronavirus has many people worried about getting pregnant, giving births and raising children,” Tetsushi Sakamoto, minister in charge of responses to Japan’s declining birthrates, told a news conference.

    Recently published official data showed the number of notified pregnancies in the three months to July fell 11.4% from a year earlier, while the number of marriages over the same period dropped 36.9%. The sharp decline in marriages matters because the majority of babies in Japan are born in wedlock.

    Katsuhiko Fujimori, a chief researcher at the Mizuho Information & Research Institute, said that while Japan’s total fertility rate (the average number of children a woman will bear in her lifetime) has declined since 2015, the pandemic may further exacerbate the downward trend.

    All 47 prefectures logged a decline, with Yamaguchi Prefecture in western Japan seeing the biggest fall at 29.7%, followed by Aomori Prefecture to the country’s northeast at 23.7% and Ishikawa Prefecture in central Japan at 22.5%.

    “This is very serious because negative effects could stay on, with the economic downturn leading to fewer marriages, and then to fewer births,” said Hideo Kumano, executive chief economist at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute.

    The pandemic has exacerbated a preexisting downward trend in the birthrate, which former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called a “national crisis.” The number of births in 2019 was down 5.8% to around 865,000, the lowest annual figure ever.

    A recent survey by the Nikkei newspaper showed that the majority of 22 economists polled expect that the Japanese economy will not come back to pre-pandemic levels before 2024, indicating a prolonged headwind against getting married. Policymakers are scrambling to address the crisis, covering fertility treatment with health insurance and doubling the upper limit of a one-off government allowance for newlyweds to 600,000 yen.

    “There are various predictions on what will happen if the number of births keeps falling, but one thing is certain. Current systems, including the social security system, will no longer be functional,” said Masaji Matsuyama, former minister overseeing the issue of declining. “It will be a crisis in which the very existence of the nation as we know it is at stake.”

  • The Japanese government’s tourism promotion arm will introduce regional sightseeing spots to would-be travelers by live-streaming them on Facebook, starting this month, in preparation for the day when the coronavirus pandemic comes to an end.

    The Singapore offices of the Japan National Tourism Organization and two prefectures, Shizuoka and Okinawa, jointly announced the launch of the “Fun from Home” project calling for live-streaming on Facebook. The publicity blitz is targeted at more than three million followers of official Facebook pages operated by the Asia-Pacific offices of the organization, known as JNTO, in six countries: Australia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.

    The first in a series of live video introductions took place on Saturday through the Facebook channel of the Shizuoka prefectural government’s Southeast Asian office based in Singapore. The second version, set for 8 November, will feature the southern island prefecture of Okinawa, including a live folksong performance and a quiz event, with the live-streaming project continuing until next March at a pace of one program per month in principle.

    “We would like to have potential visitors enjoy Japan at home and maintain as much as possible their motivation to travel to Japan after the epidemic ends,” said Hatsume Nagai, head of JNTO’s Singapore office.

  • The coronavirus pandemic has changed a lot about how children study nowadays. In Japan schools are looking to the internet to maintain one much-beloved tradition: the school trip. With multi-day in-person school trips no longer an option, excursions are being conducted on a new platform, where technology is being deployed to give students a safe simulation of the real thing when hitting the road is not possible.

    While many schools have canceled or postponed outings due to the global health crisis, some have taken students on “remote trips” which allow students to participate in cultural activities and sightseeing without having to step out of their classrooms.

    The purpose of school trips, according to an education ministry official, is to have children learn things they cannot in their classrooms. Students often study about the place they are visiting ahead of time so they know what they are looking at. Popular destinations include Tokyo, as well as the historical and cultural hubs of Kyoto and Nara in western Japan, as well as Hokkaido in the north and Okinawa in the south.

    In mid-October, students at a junior high school in Shizuoka Prefecture, central Japan, participated in a virtual trip to Kyoto and Nara after their visit to the real thing, originally scheduled for May, had to be scrapped.

    Using the videoconferencing app Zoom, the third-grade students at Nagaizumikita junior high school toured the World Heritage-listed Yakushiji Temple in Nara guided by a monk, and they also made a traditional Japanese “nerikiri” confectionary via a remote lesson from a confectioner in Kyoto. The roughly four-hour program also included a competition in which comedians based in western Japan quizzed the students about their understanding of the area.

    Manabu Watanabe, the vice principal of the school, stressed virtual trips will never be able to fully replace traveling in person as a group, but he said going virtual helped give the students “a taste of the trip” at this difficult time.

    The virtual trip was organized by a travel agency, Kinki Nippon Tourist Metropolitan Co., which launched the remote school trip program in late September. According to the company, it has already held several remote trips and expects to host about 10 by the end of the year.

    Education minister Koichi Hagiuda told a press conference on 2 October that he wants schools to return to holding in-person trips by taking sufficient measures against the virus. School trips nationwide are part of the government’s “Go To Travel” subsidy campaign, he added. “For children, the trips are an invaluable memory and also very effective in terms of education. We would like to request schools make as much effort as possible, including traveling to less distant destinations,” he said.

    The schools that have decided to go ahead with physical excursions have been making scheduling changes, including shortening their durations and switching destinations to reduce the risk of virus infections, the bureau said. Instead of going to a location that is far and that requires a lot of traveling on busy trains or planes, many schools have been holding their trips locally.

  • A coronavirus testing center will open next month at Narita airport in Chiba Prefecture, enabling departing travelers to obtain a certificate for a negative test result within two hours, the operators said Thursday. Two facilities will be set up on 2 November at two terminal buildings at the airport mainly for people departing Japan, Nippon Medical School Foundation and Narita International Airport Corp. said in a press release.

    The center will conduct polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, tests for a fee, and issue the certificates needed for the points of destination. Certificates can also be provided for people who tested negative before arriving at the airport, as long as they bring the results of their test or a medical referral letter.

    Initial tests and publication of certificates will take longer than two hours during November as it will take time for the lab to get up and running. “The center will be capable of testing 700 people per day, and we will respond to further demand by increasing the number of doctors and nurses,” Atsuhiro Sakamoto, head of the foundation, said at a press conference Thursday. “We will fully support the framework for people departing the country,” he added.

    No advance bookings are required, but travelers with an appointment can get tested and obtain a certificate for 39,800 yen, lower than the 46,500 yen charged for those without a reservation. The center will be open 24 hours, seven days a week, but testing and the issuance of certificates in the early morning hours and at night will be subject to additional fees. People other than departing passengers can also get tested, but those with symptoms of fever or a cough will not be accepted.

    Narita International Airport Co also said they will reduce user charges for airlines currently operating international or domestic passenger flights in a bid to help their businesses hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, stating it will waive landing and parking charges for all scheduled domestic flights, while reducing the amount for international flights.

    The measure will be put into effect retroactively from April. It will be in place until the number of flights exceeds 50% of those logged in fiscal 2019 and a recovery trend can be expected. “We are staking everything to maintain the aviation network of the country,” Akihiko Tamura, the company’s president, said at a press conference.

    For international flights, small-sized aircraft will receive a 30,000 yen (€240) reduction, while 70,000 yen will be cut for medium- or large-sized planes with a maximum takeoff weight of 100 tons or more. The number of arrivals and departures between April and September at the airport near Tokyo dropped 64% from a year earlier to 47,986. The number of passengers tumbled 94% in the same period due to travel restrictions imposed amid the pandemic, according to the company.

  • Japan’s Fujifilm Holdings Corp said on Thursday it has partnered with Shanghai-based Carelink Pharmaceutical Co to seek approval in China for Avigan to treat COVID-19 and influenza. Carelink will use Fujifilm’s data on Avigan’s treatment of novel coronavirus infections and influenza to seek imported drug approval in China, Fujifilm said in a statement. The two companies also plan to develop an injectable form of the drug.

    Fujifilm said last week it was seeking approval for Avigan as a treatment for COVID-19 in Japan. That followed results from a late-stage study in Japan that showed the antiviral drug reduced recovery time for patients with non-severe symptoms. Avigan, originally developed as an emergency flu drug and known generically worldwide as favipiravir, has been approved in India and Russia to treat COVID-19.

    Fujifilm sold global rights in July on Avigan to India’s Dr Reddy’s Laboratories and Dubai-based Global Response Aid. That deal excluded China, Japan and Russia. Last month, Fujifilm said the late-stage study of 156 COVID-19 patients in Japan showed that symptoms of those treated with Avigan improved after 11.9 days, versus 14.7 days for a placebo group. Results of the study, conducted by subsidiary Fujifilm Toyama Chemical, were found to be statistically significant.

  • A center for coronavirus prevention will be in operation during the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics next summer. Officials from the Japanese government, the Tokyo Metropolitan government and the Tokyo Organising Committee met on Tuesday 27 October at the Prime Minister’s Office to discuss the matter. They decided to set up the anti-infection center under the oversight of the organizing committee.

    Officials say that the center will be tasked with recording details on the condition of athletes and others involved in the Games who enter the country to take part. It will also be responsible for tracing the infection route of any confirmed cases.

    Participants at the meeting also decided to consider building a hub for coordinating activities such as treatment of outpatients suffering from fever, patient transport, hospitalization in the Olympic village and the oversight of private laboratories.

    The government will discuss with the IOC and athletic federations possible guidelines for dealing with athletes who have been confirmed to be infected or found to have come into close contact with infected persons during the Games.

  • Halloween in Japan is expected to be celebrated in new ways this year, at socially distanced events or online with revelers upping their facial decorations, as attempts are being made to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

    Amid concerns that the famed Shibuya scramble crossing may become a virus hotspot should tens of thousands of revelers congregate there on 31 October as in the past, the ward’s mayor, Ken Hasebe, on Thursday asked people to refrain from doing so this year and attend virtual events instead.

    “Please do not come for Halloween this year,” Hasebe said at a press conference. “I would like you to refrain from being raucous on the streets and consider other ways to celebrate during the pandemic.” These could include a series of events in a virtual Shibuya, officially recognized by the ward, which will run from next Monday through the end of the month. Halloween lovers can walk around as avatars and show off their costumes, or watch a live show by pop singer Kyary Pamyu Pamyu.

    Other cities are switching to online celebrations as well. The city of Kawasaki, near Tokyo, which saw around 120,000 people come to its costume parade last year, has launched an online costume contest on its public website. Contestants from around the world can submit videos of themselves wearing their costumes for a grand prix award of 500,000 yen.

    “Halloween originates from the practice of expelling evil spirits. We want our wish of expelling the coronavirus to be granted by using the possibility of people connecting online from home,” said Yohei Yatabe, who manages the project.

    Theme parks are also taking various measures to avoid becoming virus hotspots. Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea have canceled their Halloween events, saying they are “prioritizing the safety and health of visitors and employees.” Universal Studios Japan in Osaka is implementing entry restrictions so visitors naturally spread throughout the park.

    With events moving online, individuals at home are focusing on decorating their faces to show off on screen. A Don Quijote discount store in Roppongi said sales of patterned masks and face shields have been brisk as people are make them part of their Halloween costumes.

Minister Hugo de Jonge (Health, Welfare and Sport) in the Senate (view video in Dutch).

Update on the Netherlands

  • No new social restrictions are expected to be announced by Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Health Minister Hugo de Jonge, at the press conference that is scheduled on Tuesday 27 October. They are instead expected to preemptively address critics who believe the current partial lockdown policy is too weak to slow the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, and too damaging to certain business sectors.

    Rutte and De Jonge will provide a brief update about the situation, without introducing new measures, and without loosening or tightening existing rules, anonymous sources told NOS, RTL Nieuws and Nu.nl. They were far more likely to say they need one more full week to determine if the partial lockdown in place since 14 October has had any impact, and to issue a starting warning that a further increase in infections will bring about a stricter lockdown.

    The number of coronavirus infections in the Netherlands continued to rise last week, with public health institute RIVM reporting 63,131 new coronavirus infections last week, 17.5% more the previous week. Monday was the 21st time a single-day record has been set in the four weeks since the government announced its first package of measures meant to tackle the second wave of infections.

    However on Wednesday as the RIVM revealed 10,353 new infections of the novel coronavirus, hospitals were treating 2,249 Covid-19 patients, an increase of 104. Acute care expert Ernst Kuipers said he expected 2,500 patients by the end of this week, a figure which will rise even higher. “If that continues, you need additional measures,” he said.

    The coronavirus road map the government which was released earlier this month shows that measures that may be implemented in a complete lockdown include closing schools, closing public spaces that attract visitors like museums and amusement parks, further limiting social gatherings, and limiting the use of public transport to essential trips only.

  • The third coronavirus support package is being expanded for culture, events, catering and other industries, Ministers Eric Wiebes (Economic Affairs), Wopke Hoekstra (Finance) and Wouter Koolmees (Social Affairs) announced on Tuesday 27 October. The cabinet is also making the corona support measure for covering fixed costs available to all sectors, allocating a total of half a billion euros for the extra support. 

    “We can afford this”, assured Hoekstra. “But it is still money that we have to borrow and pay back later.” The third support package will run from October to June 2021.

    The catering industry will receive compensation for the stock that has been built up and is now unusable due to the temporary closure. It is also a compensation for the costs incurred by cafes and restaurants to make their business corona proof. This concerns 2.75% of the lost turnover, on average the cabinet thinks that this amount will amount to 2,500 euros per entrepreneur.

    The fixed costs allowance (TVL), together with the wage subsidy (NOW) and self-employed person help (Tozo), the most important lifebuoy, will be expanded. It was only intended for sectors that were directly hit hard by the corona crisis. Now suppliers are also being compensated for this. Initially, the cabinet wanted businesses to resolve this amongst themselves, for example by making agreements about rent reduction.

    “In this situation we still think it is justified to expand this scheme,” Wiebes now says in an explanation. Because many music events and fairs have not taken place, these entrepreneurial sectors also receive an extra benefit. This is a one-off payment based on lost income from last summer. The cabinet thinks that it concerns about 800 entrepreneurs who receive an average of 14,000 euros.

    There will be a so-called Time Out Arrangement, a kind of hibernation for companies. As long as the economy is (partly) locked, companies do nothing, measures are relaxed again, they can open. Companies that are fundamentally healthy do not have to file for bankruptcy. This plan is being further elaborated. 

  • A large majority in the Senate voted on Tuesday to pass the temporary corona law. The law must provide a legal basis for the cabinet’s current corona policy. In total, 48 senators from the coalition parties and the parties GroenLinks, SGP, 50PLUS and PvdA supported the temporary corona law. There were 24 who voted against passing the law. 

    The House of Representatives passed the corona law earlier this month, after it had been amended on important points. For example, the fine for violating social distancing and other coronavirus rules, was reduced to 95 euros from 390 euros. The maximum prison sentence for breaking the rule on group gatherings, and not maintaining 1.5 meters distance, was reduced from one month to to two weeks. There will be no ban on visiting nursing homes. Plus, The House of Representatives will have more power, and the government will be able to enact measures without parliamentary approval only during emergencies. The other measures part of the law is expected to be announced this week.

    In a crisis situation like this, much urgency is required, according to the House of Representatives and the cabinet. The Council of State also found this deviating procedure justifiable in this special situation.

  • Around 70% of students borrowed money from DUO last year for their studies. On average, each student loaned 700 euros per month, Statistics Netherlands (CBS) reported on Tuesday. Student unions LSVb and FNV Young & United are concerned by the fact that more students are borrowing more money.

    The number of students who have student loans increased significantly since the basic study grant was abolished in 2015, according to the stats office. In 2010, 26% of 19-year-old students had a student loan. By 2018,that increased to 65%.

    Students are also borrowing larger amounts. In 2010, the average 19-year-old student borrowed 310 euros per month from DUO, compared to 568 euros on average in 2018. Statistics Netherlands noted that students are more likely to take out a student loan, and to borrow more as they grow older.

    “These amounts are very concerning,” Lyle Muns of student union LSVb said in a response. According to him, an average loan of 700 euros per month means that study debts of 50 thousand euros are no longer an exception. “And this does not even include the effects of the corona crisis. The loan system must be ended quickly, because it can’t go on like this.”

    The coronavirus crisis resulted in many students – many of whom work in hard-hit sectors like hospitality and events – lost their jobs. The crisis also led to study delays for many students, which means they will have to study longer and loan more as a result.

    CBS noted that last year, before the coronavirus crisis hit, students earned more at an average amount of 550 euros per month. According to Statistics Netherlands, this is not because more students started working – that percentage remained stable at around 85%. The higher earnings are mainly due to working students putting in more hours. They also started earning more per hour, as the minimum youth wage increased and the age at which young people receive the adult minimum wage was lowered.

    FNV Young & United chairman Bas van Weegberg is not surprised that students are working more hours. “It makes sense that students work more due to higher costs of room rent and tuition fees and less income because of the lack of the basic grant,” he said in a reaction. “There is nothing wrong with working, but working a lot of hours in combination with a full-time study creates more stress and less room for development and relaxation.”

  • The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will adjust the travel advice for 10 German cities, including Berlin and Frankfurt am Main, to color code orange as of Wednesday 28 October (only ‘essential trips’ will be permitted).

    The stricter travel advice will also apply to Bremen, Munich, Düsseldorf, Cologne, Aachen, Stuttgart, Essen and Mannheim from Wednesday. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the number of positive tests in the German cities is seriously increasing.

    Anyone who has been to one of the cities will be advised to go into home quarantine for 10 days from Wednesday on returning to the Netherlands. Until now, this advice did not apply to any German city. The stricter travel advice does not apply to travelers who come from outside these cities and who have traveled directly to the airports.

    Code orange already applies to all of Belgium, France, Spain, Finland, Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom, as well as to the Portuguese capital Lisbon and to Greek islands such as Crete, Rhodes, Corfu and Lesbos.

    The German Ministry of Foreign Affairs has already taken measures with regard to travelers from the Netherlands. For example, the Dutch must be able to show a negative corona test of no older than 72 hours upon arrival or have themselves tested preventively and go into self-quarantine for fourteen days.

  • According to trade union CNV, improper work stations at home are causing a shocking increase in the number of physical complaints among its members. 41% of CNV members report more problems with their neck, shoulders, or arms since they started working from home, the union found in a survey of 2,500 of its members, NOS reports.

    45% said that they do not have a workplace that meets the health and safety requirements. “The laptop is on the kitchen table, the chair is too low, the laptop is flat,” CNV chairman Piet Fortuin said to the broadcaster. “At work the screen is at the right height, you often don’t have that at home.”

    The union wants employers to do more to guide their employees in working from home safely and efficiently. “For example, hire a fit coach and vouchers for a physiotherapist,” Fortuin suggested. These costs will be recouped by lower absenteeism, he said. “We have seen an increase in absenteeism in recent weeks. This is partly due to physical complaints”

    The CNV survey also showed that only 23% of its members receive work-from-home allowances from their employers. 61% said they incur costs by working from home that are not reimbursed.

Update on Dujat & Members

  • 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)

蘭日貿易連盟 | www.dujat.nl

Stroombaan 10 | 1181 VX Amstelveen | The Netherlands

Sources: Nu.nlNOSTelegraafCBSJapanTodayNHKKyodo News