Weekly Update: News on Japan & the Netherlands – Week 49, 2020

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Update on Japan

  • On Tuesday 1 December, the Tokyo metropolitan government reported 372 new cases of the coronavirus, up 61 from Monday. The number is the result of 4,384 tests conducted on 28 November. The tally brought Tokyo’s cumulative total to 41,311.By age group, the highest number of cases were people in their 20s (93), followed by 81 in their 30s and 58 in their 40s. The number of infected people hospitalized with severe symptoms in Tokyo is 62, down eight from Monday, health officials said.

    Nationwide, the number of reported cases as of 6:30 p.m. was 2,011. After Tokyo, the prefectures with the most cases were Osaka (318), Hokkaido (206), Aichi (197), Kanagawa (158), Hyogo (123), Saitama (104), Chiba (74), Ibaraki (50), Shizuoka (42), Fukuoka (33) and Okinawa (27). Twenty-eight coronavirus-related deaths were reported.

    In response to the increasing infections, Health Minister Tamura Norihisa said, “The number of people in serious condition tends to lag behind new cases. So the fact that serious ones have increased to nearly 500 means we’re facing a sense of crisis.”

    Tamura is also urging local governments to secure enough hospital beds. He says COVID-19 patients who don’t require hospitalization should be quarantined in designated facilities, including hotels to free up resources.

    The biggest hotspot is Tokyo. More than a quarter of total cases nationwide have been confirmed in the capital. Officials reported over 370 cases on Tuesday in the city of 14 million. Metropolitan government officials want local hospitals to increase the number of beds for seriously ill patients from 150 to 200 to meet the growing demand.

  • Tokyo on Saturday kicked off a 20-day period during which restaurants that serve alcohol and karaoke venues have been asked by the metropolitan government to shorten business hours to help combat a recent resurgence in coronavirus infections.The request comes two months after the lifting of a similar call and as the country the same day logged a daily figure of 2,684 new coronavirus cases and 440 cases of those with serious symptoms, both at record levels, further raising concerns about the severity of the virus. The move comes as a blow to operators hoping for increased demand during the year-end party season and could derail the Japanese economy’s nascent recovery.

    The metropolitan government will provide 400,000 yen in financial support to each business complying with the request to close by 10 p.m. through 17 December. But some are undecided or will apparently refuse to do so.

    “Our sales had just started recovering. I can understand why the request was made but it is difficult to comply with it during the year’s busiest season,” said Jun Sagae, manager of a pub in Shimbashi, a popular eating area for office workers. The pub had followed two similar requests made earlier.

    A pub near Ueno Station, a busy transport hub, said Saturday it will comply with the request. “The number of customers has begun to decline again due to the resurgence of infections,” one of its employees said, adding, “The 400,000 yen support is not sufficient at all. We hope that infections will settle down soon.”

    Aichi Medical University professor Hiroshige Mikamo said at a forum on the coronavirus on Saturday that infections have “spread through all ages for the third wave” of the virus, and cases are growing again among the elderly.

  • Japan will test around 15,000 people for novel coronavirus antibodies by the end of the year to get a better grasp of the infection situation amid a nationwide resurgence in new cases, the health minister said Friday. The testing, the second of its kind since June, will take place in Tokyo, Osaka and three other prefectures, the minister, Norihisa Tamura, told a press conference.The results will help health officials understand more accurately to what extent COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, has spread in Japan as antibodies to the virus would be present even in those who are asymptomatic.

    In addition to Tokyo, Osaka and Miyagi, which were included in the first round of antibody testing in June, the ministry said testing will also be carried out in Aichi and Fukuoka prefectures.

    Japan tested around 8,000 people in June for coronavirus antibodies, and the results showed a 0.10% infection rate in Tokyo. The positivity rates for Osaka and Miyagi in the country’s west and northeast were 0.17% and 0.03%, respectively.

    Health experts said the outcome showed a very limited spread of the virus as the three regions’ positivity rates were much lower than some 20% detected in New York and 5% in Spain. They concluded that the first wave of infection was “fairly contained” in Japan after analyzing the test results.

  • As of Tuesday, the Olympic rings are back in Tokyo Bay. They were removed for maintenance four months ago, shortly after the Tokyo Olympics were postponed until next year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The five-ring symbol, measuring 33 meters wide and 15 meters high, was initially installed in January on a barge in Tokyo’s Odaiba Marine Park.The rings were returned to the display site on Tuesday morning, and located in the shadow on Tokyo’s Rainbow Bridge. During the maintenance work, their backs were painted with five colors so that people can enjoy viewing the rings from various angles. The rings are to be on display until the end of the Olympics next 8 August.

    The reappearance of the rings is the latest sign that organizers and the International Olympic Committee are increasingly confident that 15,400 Olympic and Paralympic athletes can safely enter Japan during the pandemic.

    These Olympics are sure to be like no other. They will hinge partly on the availability of vaccines and rapid testing for COVID-19, and on athletes and other participants following strict rules that could involve quarantines, a limited number of fans in venues, and athletes leaving Japan shortly after they finish their competitions.

    Organizers have been vague about exactly how the Olympics will be held. Plans are in flux with dozens of COVID-19 countermeasures being floated involving athletes, fans, and tens of thousands of officials, judges, VIPs, and media and broadcasters.

    Protocols should become clearer early in 2021 when decisions must be made about permitting fans from abroad, which will affect revenue from ticket sales. The meter continues to run on billions in costs, with Japanese taxpayers picking up most of the bills. Reports in Japan this week say the cost of the postponement is about €2.5 billion.

  • Social media was abuzz Sunday after reports that an object emitting an intense light had been spotted falling from the skies above Japan in the early hours of the morning. The fireball, believed to be a bolide — a type of shooting star often compared to a full moon for its brightness — could be seen clearly from parts of western and central Japan.A man in his 20s living in Gifu Prefecture was able to capture the shooting star on camera as it momentarily lit up the sky at around 1:35 a.m. Sunday morning. “It made a rumbling noise,” one Twitter user wrote, while another said, “The sky went totally bright.”

    Takeshi Inoue, director of the Akashi Municipal Planetarium in Hyogo Prefecture, said that while shooting stars brighter than Venus are generally known as bolides, it is rare for them to be so bright. “We believe the last burst of light was as bright as the full moon,” he said.

    In July, a similarly bright shooting star was observed moving from southwest to northeast in the sky above Tokyo. It was later identified as a meteor after fragments were found in neighboring Chiba Prefecture. The National Astronomical Observatory of Japan has said several fireballs are observed every month on average, but it is rare for people to hear anything.

  • The Diet on Friday gave the green light to stop Saturday as well as next-day delivery of standard postal mail to address a worker shortage and falling demand due to increased use of the internet.Under the revised postal law, the changes will take effect around next fall. But while standard mail delivery service will be limited to weekdays only, Saturday and Sunday delivery of parcels as well as express and registered mail will be maintained.

    Postal services are operated under a universal service obligation in Japan, including rural areas, remote islands and mountainous regions. Japan Post Co, a unit of Japan Post Holdings Co, had been calling for a review of the postal law to end Saturday delivery as it faces a shortage of workers and rising labor costs.

    While demand for “snail mail” has been declining with the rise of email, demand for the delivery of parcels has been on the rise as an increasing number of people shop items online. Last year, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications accepted a government panel’s proposal to end Saturday delivery of mail.

    A bill to amend the law was initially planned to be submitted to the Diet last year or earlier this year, but it was delayed due to a fraud scandal involving sales of insurance products at the Japan Post group.

  • Two major Japanese airlines will launch trials of a digital certificate for negative coronavirus test results to reduce the complexity of immigration procedures for international air travelers. All Nippon Airways (ANA) will start examining the usefulness of the smartphone app, “CommonPass”, on its flights between Tokyo’s Haneda Airport and New York as early as December. Japan Airlines is also considering a similar program.The system can show the results for those who have taken PCR tests, as well as the names of testing facilities. It includes passport numbers, users’ current health status, itineraries and other pertinent information. Users can quickly learn whether they meet entry requirements by holding their smartphones over data scanners.

    Airlines around the world are considering introducing the CommonPass. US carrier United Airlines and Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific Airways are conducting trials. Efforts to develop CommonPass are being supported by the World Economic Forum.

    Challenges that must be overcome before a full-fledged launch of the app as a globally standardized format include cooperation among global quarantine officials and other authorities.

James Fresco to open “Vegan Fresco”, the first vegan supermarket in Amsterdam.

Update on the Netherlands

  • Another 4,073 people tested positive for the coronavirus infection, public health agency RIVM said on Tuesday 1 December. The total was about 16% below the seven-day rolling average of 4,862. It was also about 2% higher than the same day a week ago. So far this week, 8,683 people have tested positive for the infection, about 5.5% lower than last week.The three cities with the most infections were Amsterdam (247), Rotterdam (165), and The Hague (109). While the latter showed a 9% week-to-week drop, Amsterdam’s total went up by 25%, and Rotterdam’s rose by 30%. The agency also revealed that 62 more deaths were linked to COVID-19, raising the seven-day average to 58. To date, 9,438 people were confirmed to have died from the disease.

    Figures from patient coordination office LCPS also showed that 187 more people were admitted to hospitals for COVID-19 during the 24 hours leading up to Tuesday, 2 p.m. During that time, 20 patients were moved into intensive care.

    Dutch hospitals on Tuesday were treating 1,683 people for the coronavirus disease, a single-day decrease of 38 after accounting for new admissions, deaths, and discharges. That was the lowest total since 18 October. There were 1,205 people in regular care wards, down 35 in a day, and the intensive care units were treating three fewer, or 478. The ICU tally fell to its lowest point since 23 October.

  • The Temporary Measures Act COVID-19 takes effect in the Netherlands as of Tuesday 1 December, to form a legal basis for the measures in place to try and curb the spread of the coronavirus in the country. In addition to making face masks mandatory in public spaces, the law also gives parliament more power to approve measures.From today, everyone in the Netherlands aged 13 or older must wear a face mask in public indoor spaces like stores, libraries, stations, and secondary schools. There are some exceptions for people who are medically unable to wear a mask, and for certain activities. Violators will be fined 95 euros. On Monday, some retail chains said that they would not be enforcing this rule. But according to Hubert Bruls, chairman of the Security Council, it is shopkeepers also have to adhere to the law, which means they have a responsibility to enforce the face mask rule.

    The law also comes with the “urgent advice” to avoid singing or shouting in groups. According to the government, singing and shouting proved to be a source of infections, even if people adhere to the other COVID-19 measures at the time. “This means that it is not recommended to shout or sing in choirs in groups or to go to singing lessons with several people.” Children up to the age of 12 are excepted from this advice.

    To make enforcement easier for the police and enforcers, the term ‘household’ will no longer be used when talking about coronavirus rules. For example, until now people had to maintain social distancing unless they were from the same household. Now you have to mantain social distancing unless you live at the same address, i.e. you share the same front door.

    From 1 December, parliament and the Senate will also have more of a say in what rules are in place against the coronavirus. Instead of the Public Health Minister laying down measures in emergency regulations, the government must now first submit these regulations to parliament and the Senate for approval. They will have a week to approve the measure. If they don’t, it will expire and not take effect. If there is acute danger to public health, the government can use an emergency procedure to implement the measure immediately, but it will lapse after a week if parliament and the Senate do not approve it.

  • The Dutch government announced on Tuesday that it will begin inoculate the public against the coronavirus on 4 January if European regulators issue their approval to distribute one of the candidate vaccines. Earlier in the day, the European Medicines Agency said it had started its evaluation of the vaccine developed by Moderna, and another created in a partnership between Pfizer and BioNTech.“The vaccine is now within reach and we are on the eve of a new phase in this crisis,” Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said in a statement. “It is now up to EMA to do its job carefully. We will ensure that we are ready as soon as the green light comes,” he stated.

    De Jonge said that “this really is the best-case scenario.” He cautioned that optimism should be tempered by the possibility that the EMA and the European Commission investigation happens more slowly than hoped, adding that, “safety comes before speed.”

    In the meantime, De Jonge said the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport will begin mounting the logistics needed to launch a wide-scale vaccination program. According to the country’s vaccination strategy, elderly people, medically vulnerable people and healthcare workers who come into contact with COVID-19 patients will be the first to get their shots. The vaccine will be provided to residents free of charge, and on a voluntary basis.

    If given approval, the Netherlands expects to take delivery of enough doses of the Pfizer vaccine in December to inoculate 450 thousand people. More shipments of 1.6 million doses through the first three months of next year could provide vaccinations to 800 thousand others.

    “A decision on Moderna’s vaccine is expected in mid-January, EMA reports,” the ministry said. It could provide 400 thousand doses to the Netherlands by the end of March. Like the Pfizer treatment, it also requires two doses for maximum effectiveness, and would thus protect about 200 thousand people.

    The European Union has deals with four other vaccine candidates, including AstraZeneca, Curevac, Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Janssen, and Sanofi. All but one require two doses. The Netherlands would gain access to 50 million vaccine doses in total if all six are approved, which can be used on over 29 million people.

    The Netherlands is set to acquire 3.89% of all vaccine units produced for the European Union. Only pricing of the Pfizer vaccine has been leaked, at an estimated price of 15.50 euros per dose. The Netherlands has set aside 700 million euros to purchase vaccines, and estimated the logistical costs of transportation, storage, and inoculation at between 900 million and a billion euros.

  • After contracting 4.6% this year thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, the Dutch economy will grow by a slight 0.8% next year, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The expectations are somewhat more gloomy than in June, when the economists expected the Dutch economy to grow by 6.6% in 2021, after an 8% contraction in 2020.In 2022, the economy will recover more, with almost 3% in growth expected, according to the OECD-report published on Tuesday.

    “Output is projected to improve gradually in 2021 and 2022,” the OECD said. Higher consumption will be the driving force behind initial recovery. But as the government’s job retention scheme is phased out, unemployment will rise. That, combined with limited wage growth and declining household wealth, will dampen private consumption growth in the next two years.

    Business investment will also remain subdued, “reflecting weak demand and lingering uncertainty”, the organization said. Looming pension cuts and the upcoming Brexit will also have a negative effect on Dutch economic growth, the OECD warned.

  • ABN Amro plans to cut 15% of its workforce, or some 2,700 jobs in the coming years, the bank said in an update on its strategy on Monday. The Dutch bank will focus more of its attention on the Netherlands and Northwestern Europe.ABN Amro wants to cut costs by 700 million euros to 4.7 billion euros in the coming years. The job cuts should contribute to this. The bank will do its best to limit the consequences for employees as much as possible, for example through natural attrition and by retraining for positions that are needed, ABN Amro said. It is setting about 150 million euros aside for this reorganization. At the end of 2019, ABN Amro employed about 18 thousand people, including 14,800 in the Netherlands.

    The bank also said that it was putting more focus on helping its customers become more sustainable and will increase the share of sustainable loans and investments from one fifth to one third by 2024. In the Netherlands, the bank will focus more on wealthy private individuals and medium-sized to large companies. In Northwest Europe, ABN Amro wants to distinguish itself in the field of sustainability and digitization.

    “Today we announce we will be a personal bank in the digital age, serving clients where we have scale in the Netherlands and Northwest Europe,” ABN Amro CEO Robert Swaak said. Swaak previously announced that the bank was planning a change in course and that this could entail job cuts. At the time, about 800 jobs were set to be scrapped.

    ABN Amro also announced that it is selling its head office on on Gustav Mahlerlaan in Amsterdam, with plans to rent part of it back. The office will be put on the market next year. Another ABN Amro office on Foppingastraat in the Dutch capital is being converted into a Paris Climate Agreement-proof “icon of sustainability”. That renovation should be done in 2025.

  • Amsterdam will soon be home to the Netherlands’ first vegan supermarket. Vegan Fresco, with solely vegan and plant-based products, will open its doors on Jan Evertsenstraat in mid-January, Het Parool reports.According to founder, James Fresco, ‘it is time’ to have a specialised vegan and plant-based supermarket in Amsterdam since demand for vegan food is rising with more and more consumers adding plant-based protein into their diets for a combination of financial, environmental, humanitarian and health reasons.

    To test whether locals were interested in such a store, James Fresco distributed 20,000 leaflets in all surrounding neighborhoods. 56.4% of respondents said they would definitely shop at the Vegan Fresco, and 40.1% said they might.

    Fresco will start a crowdfunding campaign to finance the supermarket, which was also announced in the leaflet. He also asked future shoppers to pass on their needs, wishes and expectations. “Together we’ll create a beautiful store,” Fresco said to the newspaper.

    “We will open the doors in mid-January,” he said. “Until then we will continue to build on the store and see what our exact range will be.” The products will come from all over Europe.

  • On 13 December, the official opening of the new Tram 25 (Amstelveen-Amsterdam) will take place virtually, from 16:30 until 17:30. It is possible to view the programme and register here (page text is in Dutch). An overview of the Tram 25 route was already released:

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)

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Sources: Nu.nlNOSHet ParoolJapanTodayNHKKyodo NewsANN News