Weekly Update: News on Japan & the Netherlands – Week 50, 2020

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A helicopter team followed a radio beacon to the Hayabusa2 return capsule hours after it landed in the Australian desert. | JAPAN AEROSPACE EXPLORATION AGENCY

Update on Japan

  • On Tuesday 8 December, the Tokyo metropolitan government reported 352 new cases of the coronavirus, up 53 from Monday. The number is the result of 4,067 tests conducted on 5 December. The tally brought Tokyo’s cumulative total to 44,355.By age group, the highest number of cases were people in their 20s (78), followed by 71 in their 30s and 59 in their 40s. The number of infected people hospitalized with severe symptoms in Tokyo is 60, up six from Monday, health officials said.Nationwide, the number of infected cases as of 6:30 p.m. was 2,054. After Tokyo, the prefectures with the most cases were Osaka (258), Hokkaido (204), Aichi (199), Saitama (172), Kanagawa (152), Hyogo (145), Fukuoka (85), Chiba (80), Hiroshima (50), Gifu (40), Ibaraki (34) and Gunma (32). Thirty-six deaths were reported.

    Facing a coronavirus resurgence, Osaka Prefecture has decided to raise its original virus alert level from “yellow” to “red,” meaning “emergency” and a first since the system was implemented in May, as it asked residents to refrain from nonessential outings from 4 until 15 December.

    Businesses, which had been asked to shorten operating hours and close by 9 p.m. until 11 December, will extend the duration of its request until the 15th. They will receive four extra days of government funding to total 580,000 yen. Recently, trips to Osaka have been excluded from the central government’s Go To Travel campaign and residents of Osaka are asked to refrain from using the campaign.

    Osaka Gov Hirofumi Yoshimura said Monday he has asked the central government to send nurses from the Self-Defense Forces to the city due to a shortage of healthcare workers attending to patients suffering severe coronavirus cases.

    Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi told Yoshimura that his ministry is ready to send several nurses to a temporary medical facility for COVID-19 patients to be launched in Osaka next week, the governor told reporters. He has also ordered the Self-Defense Forces to send nurses to the prefecture of Hokkaido where they deal with a shotrage as well.

  • Japan’s cabinet approved an additional economic package worth 73.6 trillion yen (€583 billion) including private funds to help ease the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The package includes extensions of subsidy programs aimed at promoting domestic travel (which will be expanded until around June), spurring consumption and helping companies maintain employment, as well as incentives for digitalization and carbon reduction, according to government officials.To help fund the stimulus, fiscal spending of around 30.6 trillion yen will be secured in a third supplementary budget for fiscal 2020 through next March and an initial budget for fiscal 2021. Both are expected to get cabinet approval later this month, the officials said.”We will maintain employment, keep businesses going, revive the economy and open a path to growth including through green and digital technologies,” Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said at a meeting of the government and ruling parties on Tuesday, revealing the size of the stimulus.

    The package is the first drawn up to fight the pandemic since Suga took office in mid-September. It came as Japan has seen record numbers of new coronavirus cases, seriously ill patients and daily death tolls in recent weeks, raising concern over the strain on the medical system.

    The government will extend its financial support measure for companies to late February. The measure was due to expire at the year-end. They will also increase subsidies to help local governments make up for losses suffered by restaurants and bars that comply with requests to shorten their operating hours. Financial support for medical institutions will be raised as well so they can secure more beds for COVID-19 patients.

    Among policy measures to bolster longer-term economic growth, 2 trillion yen will be earmarked to set up a fund for firms developing green technologies such as next-generation batteries, hydrogen fuel and carbon recycling over the next decade, as the country seeks to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. About 1 trillion yen will be set aside to promote digitalization.

    So far in the current fiscal year, Japan’s parliament has already passed two extra budgets totaling 57.60 trillion yen to finance economic stimulus steps in the fight against the pandemic. Among the past measures were 100,000 yen cash handouts to all of Japan’s 126 million residents.

    As a result, Japan’s total budget for fiscal 2020 has swelled to over 160 trillion yen even before the compilation of a third extra budget, fueling fear of further deterioration in its fiscal health. The country’s public debt already exceeded 1,100 trillion yen as of the end of fiscal 2019, more than double its gross domestic product, the worst ratio among major developed countries.

  • A small capsule from the Hayabusa2 space probe, hopefully containing soil samples from a distant asteroid, arrived in Japan on Tuesday for research into the origins of life and the evolution of the solar system.Two days after being retrieved from the Australian desert, the capsule, carefully stored in a metal container, was transported by truck to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Sagamihara Campus in Kanagawa Prefecture from Tokyo’s Haneda airport, where a chartered plane carrying it touched down early in the morning.”The samples are now in a safe environment,” JAXA Vice President Hitoshi Kuninaka said at a press conference after the capsule was brought into the facility at 11:27 a.m., with researchers and many others welcoming the arrival at the gate. “We would like to conduct a thorough analysis,” he said.

    While the six-year mission has so far proceeded smoothly, Kuninaka revealed that the agency had considered changing the date for the retrieval of the capsule due to the coronavirus pandemic. “We made the decision to show the world that we were ready to recover (the capsule) at any cost,” he said.

    A sealed container within the capsule, believed to be with samples from the Ryugu asteroid, about 300 million kilometers away from Earth, will also enable trapped gases to be analyzed. JAXA will open the capsule in a vacuum at a special facility to prevent any potential contamination and confirm whether it has actually brought back samples from the asteroid.

    “What had been on another (world) is now in front of our eyes. It’s like a dream,” Yuichi Tsuda, the Hayabusa2 project manager told reporters. Referring to the space probe, which is currently on its next journey to a different asteroid, he said that Hayabusa2 “worked really hard.”

    The capsule, which was released from the space probe on Saturday afternoon, landed in a desert near the Woomera Prohibited Area, a remote Australian military and civil aerospace facility.

    Gas samples believed to be from the asteroid were collected in a preliminary analysis conducted Monday in Australia, but Hayabusa2 mission manager Makoto Yoshikawa said JAXA cannot yet determine whether they are from Ryugu.

    A rocket carrying Hayabusa2 was launched from Japan’s Tanegashima Space Center in December 2014 to look for clues about the formation of the solar system and the origin of life. The Ryugu asteroid’s subsurface rock, unaffected by solar flares, is believed to have remained in the same state since the solar system was formed 4.6 billion years ago.

    The probe reached Ryugu in June 2018 before touching down on it twice the following year. It apparently succeeded in collecting the first-ever asteroid subsurface samples after creating an artificial crater by shooting a copper projectile at the asteroid, according to JAXA.

  • Japan’s Environment Ministry says the country’s greenhouse gas emissions for the fiscal year that ended in March hit a record low. The ministry’s preliminary figures show Japan’s domestic emissions in fiscal 2019 amounted to a carbon dioxide equivalent of 1.213 billion tons. That’s down 34 million tons, or 2.7%, from the previous year and is the sixth straight annual decline. The figure is the lowest since data compilation began in fiscal 1990.The ministry attributes the decline to a drop in energy consumption due to a smaller production of steel and machinery. It also cited an increase in the use of renewable energy sources, such as solar power and geothermal energy, as another factor.Meanwhile, emissions of alternative CFCs, which are used in refrigeration and have high global warming potential, grew by 6.2% from the previous year. The ministry attributes this to failure in recovering them. The government aims to achieve a net zero carbon society by 2050.

    But the ministry says this cannot be achieved with current efforts. It says a change in people’s lifestyles and innovative technological development will be necessary to achieve the goal.

  • The Japanese government says it’s planning on temporarily lifting import tariffs on disposable gloves made of vinyl chloride. The goal is to make it easier for medical institutions to protect frontline workers against the coronavirus.Most of the gloves used in Japan are imported and face a range of tariffs depending on where they are made. Chinese manufacturers account for nearly 80% of the market and typically face a tariff of nearly 5%.The Japanese finance ministry says the move is aimed at easing the burden on medical institutions at a time when procurement costs are rising. The government and the ruling parties plan to submit the provisional measure to the Diet next year.
  • Bird flu has been detected in a sixth Japanese prefecture, the agriculture ministry said on Monday, as a wave of infections at poultry farms sparks the Japan’s worst outbreak in more than four years.Avian influenza was discovered at two egg-producing farms in Mihara city in Hiroshima Prefecture, the ministry said on its website. Humans cannot contract bird flu from eating poultry or eggs, the ministry said. Just over 130,000 chickens at two farms in Mihara will be slaughtered and buried, while exports in a 3-km radius around the farm will be restricted.The new action means nearly 2 million chickens will have been culled since the latest outbreak began. Japan had a broiler chicken population amounting to 138 million head last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

    Japan’s last outbreak of bird flu was in January 2018 in Kagawa Prefecture, when 91,000 chickens were culled. The last big outbreak was between November 2016 and March 2017, when a total of 1.67 million chickens were culled due to the H5N6 strain of bird flu.

    Bird flu is being reported around the world, with South Korea last week confirming another case in an outbreak that has led to the culling of around 400,000 chickens and ducks. In Europe, the poultry industry is on alert as a highly contagious bird flu, deadly to animals, is spreading rapidly on the continent.

  • Panasonic Corp will start trials in February of home deliveries by a self-driving robot in a residential area near Tokyo as the coronavirus pandemic has raised demand for services with reduced or no human-to-human contact.Panasonic plans to test the feasibility of the delivery service using an autonomous robot that can travel at a maximum speed of 4 kilometers per hour with delivery items loaded inside. Developed by the Osaka-based firm, the small robot will be used in an area designed to showcase advanced technologies under a joint project with local authorities and other firms.Self-driving robots have gained renewed attention amid the global coronavirus pandemic, which has raised the need for some people to avoid human-to-human contact and stay at home. The virus outbreak has led more people to shop online and have food and other items delivered home, but a labor shortage in a range of industries including parcel delivery has been an issue in Japan.

    Panasonic has already begun the first phase of the test that is scheduled to run until the end of December, putting the self-driving robot on a public road within the designated area called the Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town, located in Fujisawa, Kanagawa Prefecture.

    In the second phase, the robot will deliver food and daily necessities purchased at shops to residents in the area between February and March. The robot can avoid obstacles on its own but it will be remotely controlled when self-driving is not possible, according to Panasonic.

    Panasonic is involved in a public-private sector panel to discuss the reworking of the legal framework to accommodate self-driving delivery vehicles. Testing of autonomous vehicles on a public road including such delivery robots requires permission from local police. In October, Japan Post Co started public road trial runs in Tokyo of self-driving delivery robots.

The Dutch Hospitality Industry protesting in The Hague on Monday 7 December.

Update on the Netherlands

  • Last week, 43,103 people in the Netherlands tested positive for an infection of the coronavirus, over 9,000 more than during the previous week. The data, released by public health agency RIVM, includes new cases up through 10:00 on Tuesday, a total which was 27% higher than the week before.There was not just a weekly increase in positive test results, but also for the first time in several weeks, the rate of infection was on the rise. About 11.6% of those who were tested for the virus were given a positive result. That was up from 11.1%.Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said during a press conference on Tuesday evening that the government is considering tightening up restrictions again after a week of increasing coronavirus infections. He ruled out the possibility of expanding permissible group sizes and household guest limits in time for Christmas and New Year’s, as the number of infections and hospitalizations were rising, and the number of daily intensive care admissions for COVID-19 was more than double what the Cabinet had hoped: an average of ten per day.

    The Prime Minister pointed out that neighboring countries are also discussing stricter restrictions. It emerged on Tuesday that advisors in Germany were advocating for a full lockdown in that country to break the second wave of infections.

    Rutte encouraged people to stay home as much as possible, follow hygiene guidelines, and to do all Christmas shopping alone. Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said it all comes down to people’s behavior. “Ultimately, it is about compliance rather than enforcement. That we consider for ourselves whether or not we really need to go out and about,” De Jonge said.

    “Maybe we will get a little more space by mid-January. That is still possible, but we have to get there together.” Should the intensive care figures fall to a rolling average of ten, Rutte said it might be possible to reopen bars, cafes and restaurants to some degree for the first time since mid-October.

    The Outbreak Management Team was also looking into expanding team sport participation so that people up to 27 years of age can participate. Currently, that is limited to people up to age 18.

  • Mayors from various cities across the Netherlands argue for more financial support for the hospitality industry. They said this before a Security Council meeting on Monday in which mayors from 25 regions participated.Earlier that day, a few hundred hospitality business owners gathered in The Hague to protest for more financial support from the government. Restaurants, bars, hotels, etc., have been ordered to keep their doors closed since mid-October as a measure to curb the spread of the coronavirus.The mayors have announced that they are very concerned about the increasing number of infections. On Tuesday, the cabinet will decide whether the measures may be somewhat relaxed by Christmas. Minister of Safety Fred Grapperhaus and Minister of Public Health Hugo de Jonge did not indicate anything on Monday evening. “But the figures aren’t looking good,” warns De Jonge.
  • The Dutch government is launching a “voucher bank” to make sure that travelers who got a voucher from their travel agency after their package holiday was canceled in the coronavirus pandemic, will eventually get their money back, even if the tour operator can’t pay the refund, De Telegraaf reported after getting access to the structure of this bank.Since the coronavirus crisis broke out, at least 1 million Netherlands residents have received a voucher as compensation for a canceled trip. Those vouchers all together are worth nearly a billion euros, according to the newspaper. The government is making 400 million euros in state loans available to the voucher bank. Travel companies can use that money to refund their customers.The state loans are enough to refund vouchers until 31 March 2021 at most, Erik Jan Reuver of the guarantee fund for travel expenses SGR said to the Telegraaf. According to Reuver, the fact that the loans don’t even cover half of the voucher value is not a problem. “Because an increasing number of voucher holders want to book a new trip in the summer of 2021 or have already done so,” he said.

    But for this to work, affiliated travel agencies and organizations need to stop issuing new vouchers as soon as possible. “From now on, immediately rebook or refund if a trip cannot take place.

  • The City of Rotterdam will provide tens of thousands of its lower-income residents with two washable face masks. The decision is part of the city’s plan to make sure that as many people as possible have a chance to keep themselves and their loved ones healthy even in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.”Good face masks are expensive and everyone should have access to them,” said Alderman Michiel Grauss. The ChristenUnie/SGP politician handles a portfolio of issues related to poverty and debt management on behalf of the city,Face masks became mandatory in the Netherlands on 1 December for anyone entering a publicly-accessible indoor space. The reusable masks will be sent to the 40,000 policyholders who signed up for the Rotterdampakket, a special insurance package from VGZ.

    The extensive package is offered at a discounted rate to people who earn a gross income of about 28,300 euros annually, and in some cases the monthly premium and deductible are partially subsidized by the city, information provided by the insurer showed.

    All masks will be delivered before the end of the month. The city will continue to distribute free disposable masks through the food banks in the municipality to help anyone who cannot afford a mask, and has also teamed up with Hema and Vegro to allow masks to be purchased with different assistance programs.

  • The Funda Index, which reports the housing status in the Netherlands every month, reported a striking turn on the supply side in November. After a four-month downward trend, the number of homeowners intending to sell now seems to be increasing again.The number of potential buyers is, however, still significantly larger than the number of potential sellers. The shortage on the market thus persists. That does not mean that buyers are less active. Yet, they do make concessions on matters such as price and outdoor/indoor space in order to have a chance at scoring a house.Quintin Schevernels, CEO of Funda, says that “although the intention to sell seems to be increasing for the first time in months, the market remains very tight.” A poll shows that 52% of people looking to buy a house think that they will have little chance of success in the current market.

    “Competition plays the biggest role in this, especially among first-time homeowners and consumers with a budget up to € 400,000,” says Schevernels. Numbers show that competition has increased in this area.

    Schevernels adds that this leads to concessions being made. “69% of consumers who expect to succeed, think that it will only work if they adjust plans. That actually means that most consumers in this market find a house that is different from what they were originally looking for.”

    Housing preferences are not the only aspect that has been affected by the coronacrisis. The Funda Index shows that timing has changed as well. About half of consumers want to change their buying or selling plans as a result of a change in working habits, as people are working from home.

    For both buyers and sellers, this has mostly led to a push forward on their agendas. A small number have decided to postpone their plans due to the pandemic. Schevernels says that the push forward is still following existing trends in the market. “It is still far too early to say that a less tight market is in sight. But if this continues, it could provide some relaxation on the market,” he adds.

  • Two major players in the European energy world are joining a consortium that aims to make Groningen the pivot of the green hydrogen economy. Norwegian company Equinor and German company RWE have joined the NortH2 project, Dagblad van het Noorden reports.The NortH2 consortium wants to boost the international green hydrogen market. It aims to achieve this with the construction of new offshore wind farms that must generate 4 Gigawatts of energy in 2030 and 10 Gigawats in 2040, and large-scale production with electrolysers. In 20 years’ time, the consortium wants to produce 1 million tons of green hydrogen per year. According to NortH2, this will cut CO2 emissions by 8 to 10 megatons per year.A first feasibility study showed that the social costs of a large-scale approach will be around 20% lower than with a small-scale approach, the consortium said to the newspaper. The study by the University of Groningen showed that the project could generate up to 1,200 permanent jobs. And the construction phase will involve a multitude of employment opportunities.

    “This expansion is in line with the project’s international ambitions,” Cas Konig, CEO of Groningen Seaports, said to the newspaper. Groningen Seaports, Gasunie, and Shell together launched NortH2 in February. “We always had the plan to make the consortium international. The reason we started with the three of us is that we wanted speed.”

    Konig is delighted with their new partners. “Equinor is a very large player in the offshore wind sector. So that was a natural choice. This also applies to RWE, an energy giant with strong hydrogen ambitions.”

    Anders Opedal, CEO of Equinor, called NortH2 a groundbreaking project that is important for his company’s goal of being CO2 neutral by 2050. RWE CEO Roger Miesen said that Groningen’s ambitions tie in well with his company’s plans for green hydrogen. RWE wants to build an electrolyser for the production of green hydrogen in Eemshaven in the Netherlands and in Lingen in Germany.

    The biggest doubts surrounding this project are about the large amount of extra green energy it will require. But according to Konig, that is exactly why NortH2 is involving the entire chain in the power production field. “Of course, the large-scale wind and hydrogen production will not happen overnight. But if you want something done the day after tomorrow, you have to start doing it today.”

  • WhatsApp adds a so-called shopping trolley function which people can use to place an order via a company’s WhatsApp account in one go, the chat app announced on its blog on Tuesday. Companies can manage a business profile on WhatsApp that users can use to chat through the app. Chats with these types of profiles can be recognized by a notification that it concerns a company account.Companies can also offer a catalog of products with such an account. Users can see which products this company offers. The new Shopping Carts option allows users to place multiple products in a digital shopping cart and then send them to the seller at once.

Update on Dujat & Members

  • We are pleased to invite you to join our Energy Webinar, which will take place on Thursday 17 December (09:00 – 10:30 CET). This event is organized by DUJAT in close cooperation with NOM – Investment and Development Agency for the Northern Netherlands.The webinar will address a highly interesting energy topic. Hydrogen as an energy vector is in fashion due to its potential to support the transition to a decarbonized energy system required to meet the emission reduction goals of the Paris Agreement. This webinar will focus on the development of hydrogen in Europe and the (Northern) Netherlands.
  • 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.nlNOSDe TelegraafJapanTodayNHKKyodo News