Weekly Update: News on Japan & the Netherlands – Week 7, 2021

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Corowa-kun, the Japanese mascot of an online chatbot set up to answer questions about COVID-19 vaccines and increase trust.

Update on Japan

  • Japan’s first batch of the Pfizer Inc COVID-19 vaccine arrived on Friday 12 February, local media reported. The vaccine was formally approved on Sunday, which makes it the first greenlit for domestic use, clearing the way for the nation to start inoculating health workers in a matter of days. The fast-track approval by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare is a major step forward in the country’s efforts to bring the pandemic under control.It comes at a time when there is widespread public dissatisfaction with Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide ‘s response to the public health crisis and when there are less than six months until the Tokyo Olympics. In addition to Pfizer, Japan has agreements in place with AstraZeneca Plc and Moderna Inc. to receive enough doses for its population of 126 million.

    Trust in vaccines in Japan is among the lowest in the world, a study by the Lancet medical journal showed. Only half the population are willing to take a COVID-19 vaccine, a poll by national broadcaster NHK found last month.

    It is among the last major economies to begin its COVID-19 vaccination campaign, which is seen as vital for preparations for the Olympic Games, due to open in fewer than 200 days after being postponed in 2020 as the coronavirus spread.

    Vaccine minister Kono Taro, who has posted a video in which he talks frankly about possible side effects of coronavirus vaccines, promoted the cheerful dog chatbot on Twitter last week. The dog, a Shiba-inu known as Corowa-kun – from the Japanese words for “coronavirus” and “vaccine” – wears a white doctor’s coat and the app named for him gives automated answers to medical questions.

    Japan reported plans to start inoculating elderly people only after the coronavirus vaccinations for frontline health workers have been administered, possibly delaying the initially anticipated start date for seniors in April, a senior government official said on Monday 15 February. The move aims to ensure a stable supply of Pfizer Inc’s vaccine.

    Around 3.7 million health workers are to begin receiving the vaccine in March, followed by 36 million people aged 65 and older from 1 April at the earliest. However according to another government official, it is uncertain when Japan can receive subsequent shipments and how much, following the European Union’s tightening of export controls on vaccines. Pfizer is also likely to delay its plan to increase production capacity from March. But once a sufficient supply of vaccines has been secured, inoculations could still take place simultaneously for front-liners and the elderly.

    Around 10,000 to 20,000 health care workers are set to begin receiving their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on 17 February. The government will collect and periodically release details about all side effects experienced, regardless of whether the vaccine is the cause. It will also provide information on the safety of the vaccines garnered from the survey after inoculations begin for the general public.

  • More than 100 people were reported injured on Sunday after an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.3 struck northeastern Japan late the previous night, causing blackouts, water cuts and bullet train suspensions. No deaths have been attributed to the quake that occurred at 11:07 p.m. Saturday, registering upper 6 on Japan’s seismic intensity scale of 7 in parts of Fukushima and Miyagi prefectures, the government said. While a tsunami did not occur, Saturday’s quake provided a chilling reminder of that disaster, just weeks before its 10th anniversary.Injuries were reported in Fukushima and Miyagi prefectures and six others, including Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitama, all neighboring Tokyo. The quake was felt in several other areas including the capital.

    Water in a spent nuclear fuel pool spilled over at the Fukushima Daiichi Power plant, which suffered nuclear meltdowns triggered by a massive earthquake and tsunami event that hit the region 10 years ago, but it has not leaked, according to its operator Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. Other nuclear utilities have reported no irregularities so far.

    Prime Minister Suga said at a meeting of cabinet members in the morning the government has received reports of many injuries but no deaths and urged people to stay alert. “We want people to take action swiftly without letting their guard down by paying close attention to information provided by local authorities,” said Suga, noting quakes of upper 6 on the seismic intensity scale could happen over the next seven days or so. The blackouts, which affected about 900,000 households at one point, were largely resolved by the morning.

    While the first batch of novel coronavirus vaccines manufactured by Pfizer Inc. arrived in Japan on Friday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said the U.S. pharmaceutical giant has given assurances they have not been affected by the blackouts and are being stored at the required temperature.

    Around 70 evacuation centers have been set up in Fukushima Prefecture and about 200 people are taking shelter, according to the Fukushima prefectural government. The local government requested the central government dispatch the Ground Self-Defense Force to help supply water to residents. Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures continued to experience water supply issues, with about 5,000 households in the former experiencing supply cuts.

    A landslide occurred along the Joban Expressway in Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, prompting East Nippon Expressway Co to close the section between the Iwaki interchange in the prefecture and the Watari interchange in Miyagi Prefecture. Heavy equipment had been dispatched to remove large boulders and soil which blocked all lanes.

    East Japan Railway Co said Tohoku shinkansen bullet train services between Nasushiobara Station in Tochigi Prefecture and Morioka Station in Iwate Prefecture have been suspended and will remain so throughout Monday after poles in several locations from which overhead wires are suspended were found to be bent.

    The partial suspension of services on the Tohoku shinkansen prompted Japan Airlines Co to operate special flights connecting Tokyo’s Haneda airport and Aomori airport in the northeast. The Akita shinkansen between Tokyo and Akita, in Japan’s northeast, will also halt services through Monday.

    The Japan Meteorological Agency said the quake was felt in wide areas of Japan including the northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido and in the Chugoku region, containing Hiroshima, in western Japan.

  • Japan is scrambling to secure special syringes to maximize the number of COVID-19 vaccine shots used from each vial, but manufacturers are struggling to ramp up production quickly, raising fears that millions of doses could go waste.One vial is meant for six shots, Pfizer says, but it takes special syringes that retain a low volume of solution after an injection to extract six doses, while only five shots can be taken with standard syringes that the government has stored up in preparation for the inoculation drive.

    “We are still trying to secure these special syringes,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato Katsunobu said on Tuesday. He did not directly answer questions when asked last week whether the shortage meant the number of shots Japan can administer would be reduced.

    Both a Pfizer Japan spokeswoman and a Japanese health ministry official declined to say whether the contract to supply Japan with 144 million doses of vaccine by the end of the year is based on six doses being taken from each vial.

    In an bid to minimize the amount of vaccine left unused in syringes and vials, the government is asking medical equipment manufacturers to boost output of the low dead-space syringes, but there are doubts whether that can be done quickly enough.

    Nipro Corp, which runs a Thailand plant capable of making 500,000 units a month, said it planned to boost its monthly capacity to a few million, but that it would take up to five months to reach that goal.

    “We are getting a request from the health ministry and we need to take some steps. But it’s not something we can do overnight. It’s another four to five months before we can ramp up sharply,” a Nipro spokeswoman said.

    Another major Japanese medical gear maker Terumo Corp said it had started developing syringes fit for extracting six doses from a vial, but that it was too early to say when it can start commercial output.

    Although daily cases have been in decline in recent weeks in Japan after peaking in early January, Tokyo and nine other prefectures are still under the coronavirus state of emergency.

  • Tokyo 2020 Olympics chief Mori Yoshiro resigned on Friday and apologized again for sexist remarks that sparked a global outcry, leaving the troubled Olympics searching for a chief five months from the opening ceremony. The resignation of former prime minister Mori, 83, will further erode confidence in the organizers’ ability to pull off the postponed Summer Games during a coronavirus pandemic.A Tokyo 2020 board member told reporters the new president would be chosen by a selection committee. Among the candidates being considered to succeed him was Olympics Minister Seiko Hashimoto, media said.

    Hashimoto, 56, is a seven-time Olympian and pioneering female lawmaker. Her first name is based on the Japanese words for the Olympic flame and she was born just days before the 1964 Tokyo Olympics opened.

    Mori sparked a furor when he said during an Olympic committee meeting this month that women talk too much, setting off a chorus of calls for him to be sacked. He initially refused to step down.

    “My inappropriate comments caused big trouble. I’m sorry,” Mori said at the beginning of a meeting of senior organizing committee officials on Friday, adding that the most important thing was for the Tokyo Olympics to be a success.

    The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said it was “as committed as ever” to staging the Games, which are due to open on 23 July. “The IOC will continue working hand-in-hand with his successor to deliver safe and secure Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 in 2021,” IOC President Thomas Bach said in a statement.

    Mori said that though he may have said something unnecessary, he did not do it intentionally and felt his comments were misinterpreted by the media, adding he was not prejudiced against women. On Thursday he had asked the mayor of the Olympic Village, 84-year-old Saburo Kawabuchi, to take over the job but by Friday, amid public dismay that the chosen successor was another older man, media reported that Kawabuchi turned the job down.

    “We will set up a committee to look into candidates and make a selection. It will be carried out according to rules,” board member Kunihiko Koyama told reporters after the meeting.

    Broadcaster Fuji News Network quoted a government source as saying: “We can’t give the impression that things have changed unless we install a woman or see a generational shift.”

    Top government spokesman Kato Katsunobu declined to comment on the issue or on reports about Mori’s successor, adding that things would be done according to procedures and in a transparent manner.

    The Mori controversy has done “serious reputational damage” to the Tokyo Olympics, said one source involved in the Games, requesting anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter and adding that many officials want a woman to replace Mori.

    Tokyo Governor Koike Yuriko , herself a pioneer as Tokyo’s first female leader, avoided a direct answer when asked during a news conference who Mori’s successor should be, but said the person should embody Olympic ideals of inclusivity and be somebody the world can accept.

    “Diversity and harmony – that’s something that the person at the top needs to understand, embody and broadcast,” she said. “I think this is an essential thing.”

  • Japan’s steel industry says it will aim to virtually eliminate CO2 emissions by 2050, much earlier than its initial target of 2100. The Japan Iron and Steel Federation says its member companies will step up research into technology that uses hydrogen rather than coal.In theory, this would eliminate CO2 emissions. But it will involve major challenges, because the field is still in its infancy. The industry also plans to develop technology to collect gases released during the production process, so they can be contained underground rather than emitted. Industry officials say they are committed to achieving the goal of a carbon neutral society.
  • Japan plans to craft guidelines on tests of flying cars by the end of March 2022, transport minister Akaba Kazuyoshi said Friday, as the government aims to put them into practical use by 2023.The government has been encouraging the development of these flying vehicles in collaboration with private companies for such purposes as transportation in rural areas and disaster relief.

    “We will continue our public-private collaboration, and advance efforts to set a necessary environment” that is conductive to the practical use of flying vehicles, Akaba said at a press conference. Flying cars, including vehicles that take off and land vertically or drive autonomously, are also envisioned for use in tourism and cargo transportation in the 2020s.

    The central Japan prefecture of Mie, which has been advancing efforts to enhance its transportation services and attract tourists to its underpopulated areas with flying cars, had requested the state clarify its standards in giving approval to test flights.

    In 2018, the central government launched a private-public council to promote flying vehicles, engaging logistics companies as well as automobile and aircraft makers among others.

    Last August, Tokyo-based startup SkyDrive Inc successfully conducted the first public manned flight of a flying car in Japan. It was designed to be the world’s smallest electric vertical take-off and landing model, requiring only as much space on the ground as two parked cars, according to the company.

Update on the Netherlands

First Corona proof Event experiment at Beatrix Theater (Jaarbeurs) Utrecht on 15 February.
  • Another 2,875 people in the Netherlands tested positive for the coronavirus infection, public health agency RIVM reported on Monday 15 February, well below the seven-day average figure of 3,469. Some GGD-sites canceled and rescheduled appointments for tests and COVID-19 vaccine injections which were set for Monday after weather service KNMI issued a Code Red warning for icy roads.An estimated 783,606 vaccine doses have been provided since 6 January. That figure was expected to rise to a million within about a week.

    Figures set for release on Tuesday were expected to provide more clarity about how many of those injections were the second of a two-dose regimen. A week ago, the figure stood at 66,409. All three vaccines approved for use in Europe require two doses for full protection against the coronavirus disease.

    New hospitalizations for COVID-19 between the afternoons of Sunday and Monday were over 17% below the moving average. Some 143 patients were admitted into regular care, and 22 others were placed into an intensive care unit.

    That raised the current total of hospitalized patients to 1,922, a net increase of 3% after accounting for deaths and discharges. There were 1,386 patients in regular care, an increase of 57, and 536 in intensive care, an increase of six. The RIVM also said that it learned of 27 more COVID-19 deaths in the Netherlands, slightly more than a week ago, which raised the rolling average to 60.

  • The coronavirus curfew implemented on 23 January must be scrapped with immediate effect, the court in The Hague ruled on Tuesday 16 February in a lawsuit filed by protest group Viruswaarheid, NOS and NU.nl report.The government implemented the curfew based on an emergency law, which states that the cabinet can introduce rules in an emergency without consultation with parliament and the Senate. But according to the court, the curfew was not for an emergency “as is the case with a dyke break”. The fact that there was no emergency situation is apparent from the fact that the introduction of the curfew was discussed before it was introduced, the court said.

    “The judge took into account that there is a pandemic, that there is a virus that also mutates, and the great pressure on healthcare. It is a time of great worries and difficult decisions. But measures too, and especially far-reaching ones like the curfew, must be well based on law,” the spokesperson said.

    Mark Rutte, the outgoing prime minister, asked the people of the Netherlands to continue to adhere to the curfew hours even if the country’s court system determines that the mandatory curfew contravenes Dutch law. “Suspending the measure would immediately have a grave impact on the fight against the coronavirus,” Rutte said during a press conference Tuesday afternoon.

    “If the curfew was not based on the correct legal basis at this point, that does not mean that it is not necessary,” the prime minister stated. He said that curfew in effect daily from 9 p.m. to 4:30 a.m. is meant to cut down on the number of opportunities a person contagious with the coronavirus can pass it on to other people. He said the curfew is “a goal to keep the virus under control as much as possible.”

    “We cannot legally enforce washing hands, and also not the guests’ rule,” Rutte said, referencing the limitation on daily visitors allowed in a home. “But we also have to adhere to that.”

    The government appealed against the temporary order and asked the court to keep the curfew in place until the court of appeals ruled on it. Caretaker Justice and Security Minister Ferd Grapperhaus, who attended the press conference with Rutte, said, “We are not appealing because it makes for an interesting legal discussion, but because we really think the measure is necessary.”

    There will be a hearing on that request at 16:00 on Tuesday. The court case will be heard in full at a later date. The Dutch BOA Bond reported not to enforce the curfew until a concrete decision has been made. The association also wonders whether the previously issued fines are valid. “It may be that all fines will be reversed, but that is ultimately up to the judge.”

  • On Monday 15 February, a large group of people gathered again for the first time since March last year to attend a pilot event: the first in a series of eight experiments to test the future of corona proof events. The was Jaarbeurs in Utrecht was filled with people who work in the event industry. Mona Keijzer, State Secretary for Economic Affairs and Climate, opened the day in the main hall.The experiments are organized by Fieldlab Events, an initiative of the events industry that is supported by the government. “We mainly look at the contact duration, the contact moments and the distance between people”, says Pieter Lubberts of Fieldlab.

    The 500 visitors of the event had to show a negative PCR corona test upon arrival, underwent a temperature measurement and had to have themselves tested again in five days. At the event they were divided into three bubbles that do not touch each other: the green, blue and yellow bubble, which are different in size. The smallest consists of 50 people, the largest of 250, ” said Riemer Rijpkema of Fieldlab.

    “Each bubble has a different set of measures. One bubble is in the room with splash screens, the other bubble underwent a rapid test before entry and does not wear a face mask. Everyone will have another PCR test within five days of the experiment. ”

    After the event, scientists will work with the collected data and then submit it to the Outbreak Management Team (OMT). Subsequently, an advice is sent to the cabinet. Rijpkema expects the first results to be available in seven to eight weeks.

    Over the next four weeks, experiments will follow with a cabaret show, football matches and music events. The central question: under what conditions can we safely organize events again? The date of all eight tests has now been set:

    – 20 February: cabaret performance by Guido Weijers (500 visitors)
    – 21 February: NEC-De Graafschap football match (1500 visitors)
    – 28 February: football match Almere City FC-Cambuur Leeuwarden (1500 visitors)
    – 6 March: dance event in Ziggo Dome (1300 visitors)
    – 7 March: concert in Ziggo Dome (1300 visitors)
    – 13 March: dance festival (outside) at Walibi Holland (1500 visitors)
    – 14 March: pop festival (outside) at Walibi Holland (1500 visitors)

  • The Dutch economy shrank by 3.8% last year, the largest contraction measured since the Second World War, Statistics Netherlands (CBS) reported based on the currently available figures on Tuesday. In 2009, the first full year of the credit crisis, the economy shrank by 3.7%.The biggest blow to the economy happened in the second quarter of 2020, when the economy shrank an unprecedented -8.5%compared to the previous quarter. That was immediately followed by the largest growth ever measured at +7.8%. In the last quarter of the year, the economy stabilized, ultimately resulting in a full-year contraction of 3.8%.

    The contraction is largely due to consumers spending considerably less, -6.6%compared to 2019. They spent less on the hospitality industry, travel, clothing, and cultural events – all sectors majorly impacted by the coronavirus and its accompanying lockdowns. Consumers spent more on food, home furnishings and electrical appliances.

    The hospitality industry was hit hardest by the pandemic last year. The sector contributed 41% less to the economy than the year before. The culture, recreation, sports and other services sector contributed 24.5% less, due to festivals, sports matches and theater performances being canceled for most of the year.

    The imports and exports of goods and services also contributed less to the economy, although this was relatively limited at -4.5% and -4.3% respectively. This was partly due to fewer foreign tourists visiting the Netherlands, and less trade in means of transport and oil products.

    Notably, the lockdown introduced in the last quarter of 2020 did not have a major effect on the economy, the stats office said. Restaurants and bars had to close in October, followed by non-essential stores in mid-December. Although this had a major impact on the affected sectors, the economy as a whole shrank by only 0.1% compared to the previous quarter.

    Statistics Netherlands stressed that these figures are based on the figures currently available, and added that the calculations are more uncertain than in other years due to the the unprecedented circumstances surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. The stats office will publish a second calculation on 26 March.

  • The emission of greenhouse gases and air pollutants in the Netherlands continues to decrease, public health and environment institute RIVM said on Monday based on final figures for 2019. Preliminary figures for 2020 will be published next month.Ammonia emissions decreased by 6 kilotons in 2019 compared to 2018, a decrease of almost 5%. The RIVM attributed this decrease to less livestock and greener stables. The emission of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter “showed the same steady decrease as in recent years”, the institute said.

    And the emission of greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide and methane decreased by 3%. Compared to 1990, the amount of greenhouse gas emissions in the Netherlands decreased by 53%.

  • Many retailers had to close their doors temporarily in 2020 and will continue to need to do so in 2021. Thankfully, online marketplaces gave companies the opportunity to continue to keep their businesses running. For software providers for these Dutch platforms, this means all hands on deck to make sure that online sales run smoothly, NU.nl reports.“In 2020 we had around 24,000 paying customers. Now it is more than 48,000”, Wouter Twisk from the software provider JouwWeb said to NU.nl. “At the same time, we see that online stores are making two or three times the amount of revenue because more orders are being placed.”

    According to Twisk, the first increase was initially seen during the first wave. “But also afterward the number of requests was larger than usual, although it did slow down slightly.” When the second outbreak came, the number of customers rose again rapidly. “Now that on-site pick-up is possible again, there is even more demand.”

    Not only JouwWeb, but also other service providers for web stores have noticed of the growing trend. “On the one hand, you have a group of people who are bored at home and start a webshop. On the other hand, many shops that were forced to close that did not have an online store at the time are now starting one,” Luuk van de Ruit from software provider, Shoppagina, says.

    PostNL delivered a record number of packages at 337 million, more than 7% of which were attributed specifically due to the coronavirus crisis.

    Reports from the payment system iDeal showed that 30% more transactions were completed on the platform in 2020 compared to 2019. Overall, 890 million transactions worth 70 billion euros were made in the past year.

    Statistics from the Home Shopping Market Monitor showed that consumer spending and the number of online purchases shot up in the third quarter of 2020, similar to the same period a year prior. In total, online spending increased by 4% totaling 5.7 billion euros. The overall number of online purchases rose by 23% to 75.9 million.

    Danny de Pee from software provider, Mijnwebwinkel, reported three to four times more customers than usual. De Pee also said that clients are spending nearly double the amount compared to prior the coronavirus crisis.

    He expects the number of customers to continue to rise. “My prediction is that it will stay this busy in the coming months. I think we can speak here of a trend. Consumer behavior has changed during the pandemic. The threshold for buying online has become much easier to cross. It’s like working from home: we’ll continue to do that when this is over.”

Update on Dujat & Members

  • If your company has any news to share in next week’s newsletter, let us know by sending an 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.nlADNOSCBSJapanTodayNHKJapanTimes