- 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.
- 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.