Weekly Update: News on Japan & the Netherlands – Week 8, 2021

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Hashimoto Seiko, the new president of the committee organizing Tokyo 2020.

Update on Japan

  • Japanese Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide and ministers involved in the government’s coronavirus response are expected to consider lifting a state of emergency in five prefectures, including Osaka and Kyoto.New daily cases in Tokyo dropped below 200 on Monday for the first time in about three months. But the government has been cautious about lifting the state of emergency before it is due to expire on 7 March, citing strain on the medical system.Three prefectures asked the central government on Tuesday to lift the state of emergency in their areas this weekend, Osaka Gov Yoshimura Hirofumi said. The governors of Kyoto, Osaka and Hyogo made a joint request to economic revitalization minister Nishimura Yasutoshi, who is leading the country’s response to the pandemic, citing improvements in the number of hospital beds available for COVID-19 patients and the slowing pace of infections.

    Kyoto Gov Nishiwaki Takatoshi has said that even if the state of emergency is lifted, the prefecture would continue to ask restaurants and bars to shorten business hours to prevent a resurgence of infections. The governor of another prefecture, Aichi in central Japan, said he has already made a similar request with the central government.

    Tokyo Gov Koike Yuriko is cautious about lifting the emergency declaration in the capital, which is still seeing a “severe” infection situation. Koike also said she is planning to hold an online meeting with the governors of the three nearby prefectures of Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa.

  • Japan’s program to vaccinate those age 65 or above against the novel coronavirus is expected to begin in earnest later than had been planned. The vaccinations are now seen starting on a trial basis in April and reaching full swing in May, when many vaccine shipments are set to arrive in Japan. The government plans to release a new schedule for the delivery of vaccines to local governments within this week.On Monday, Prime Minister Suga told the Budget Committee of the House of Representatives, the lower chamber of the Diet, that the government was making preparations so that COVID-19 vaccinations for older people could start in April. But Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato Katsunobu expressed caution, saying that attention would need to be paid to the vaccine supply situation.Japan began its COVID-19 vaccination program last Wednesday, administering shots of vaccine made by U.S. drugmaker Pfizer Inc. to medical workers. Those age 65 or above are next in line to be vaccinated.

    Kono Taro, the minister overseeing the program, said on television Sunday that vaccinations for older people would be be delayed because Pfizer could not increase its production capacity at least until May, and the government has found that an additional 1 million medical workers need to be vaccinated.

    Currently, the government officially expects to start vaccinating those age 65 or above in April and finish the inoculations for the age group in roughly two months and three weeks. But the rollout will be delayed by about two weeks as ramping up inoculations is unlikely to be possible before May at the earliest, according to a government source.

    Regarding people with underlying conditions, who are next in line after those age 65 or above, health minister Tamura Norihisa told the Budget Committee meeting that doctors would confirm whether they have such conditions based on self-certification using prevaccination forms.

  • Japan is considering introducing waiting lists for COVID-19 vaccinations to avoid waste, the minister in charge of inoculation effort said as the country prepares to expand the program’s scope.”We should prioritize not wasting vaccines, rather than sticking to the priority order” of inoculation, when scheduled vaccinations are canceled at the last minute, administrative and regulatory reform minister Kono Taro said on a TV program. Kono indicated the central government will call on municipalities tasked with administering shots to come up with waiting list systems.Kono also cast doubt on the idea of using COVID-19 vaccine certification for official purposes, including using it as a kind of vaccine passport to permit international travel, saying to do so would discriminate against those who cannot be inoculated against the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus because of allergy.

    “I don’t think the international community will introduce a system preventing people from doing something unless they get shots,” the former foreign minister said.

  • Telework and the lack of social gatherings during Japan’s fight against the coronavirus have left people feeling increasingly stressed and lonely. Pandemic-linked isolation has been blamed for the first uptick in Japanese suicides in 11 years.Recognizing a serious problem, Prime Minister Suga on Friday launched a designated cabinet post to alleviate social isolation. Sakamoto Tetsushi, who has been tapped for the job, will work as the coordinator for efforts across multiple ministries and agencies.”Women especially are feeling more isolated and face increasing suicide rates,” Suga told Sakamoto. “I’d like you to examine the issue and put forward a comprehensive strategy.” Sakamoto is slated to assemble a team dedicated to interagency communication, and will host an emergency forum with advocacy groups and other players as early as this month to identify top priorities. Suga, in particular, noted a rise in suicides among women, he said.

    “I hope to promote activities that prevent loneliness and social isolation and protect the ties between people,” Sakamoto told reporters following their meeting. His other cabinet responsibilities include regional revitalization, as well as addressing Japan’s falling birthrate.

    Sakamoto said he could coordinate with the health ministry on suicide prevention and with the agricultural ministry on food banks, for example. “We will work on a comprehensive approach to arrange a wide range of measures,” he said.

    The U.K., which has appointed a designated loneliness minister in 2018, has an isolation problem with its older people, Sakamoto explains in his homepage. In Japan, on the other hand, loneliness afflicts across different age groups, including children, young people, women and older people, he observes, seeing the need for thorough research.

    “In Japan, solitude can be seen as a virtue and something you are ultimately responsible for addressing yourself,” said Junko Okamoto, president of consultancy Glocomm and an expert on social isolation. “The government needs to swiftly conduct foundational research and craft strategy based on scientific evidence.”

    “There is an understanding in the U.S. and Europe that the emotional toll of loneliness can lead to heart disease and numerous other conditions,” she said, adding that the creation of the new cabinet post could help raise awareness for the issue.

  • Hashimoto Seiko, 56, takes over from former prime minister Mori Yoshiro as the new president of Tokyo 2020, the committee organizing the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, after Mori resigned amid a furore over comments criticized as being sexist.At a news conference on Thursday, Hashimoto vowed to prioritize people’s safety. She is a seven-time Olympian, the first Japanese woman to stand on the podium at a Winter Games and one of the country’s top female politicians. “The Tokyo Games are just five months away, and we have to secure safety for Japan and the world. The most important issue is coronavirus prevention,” she said.Hashimoto revealed that she has already spoken with International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach by phone. She says he gave her his full backing and expressed hope that Hashimoto will put her sporting and political experience to best use.

    Hashimoto won bronze in speed skating at the Winter Olympics in Albertville, France, in 1992. Five months later she was back in action at the Summer Olympics in Barcelona, this time as a cyclist. In all, she appeared at seven Games and went on to become vice president of the Japan Olympic Committee.

    She has also been active in politics for decades. Hashimoto won her first seat in the Japanese Diet in 1995. She became State Minister for Foreign Affairs in 2008 and has served as the minister in charge of the Tokyo Games since September 2019.

  • The Japanese government has found that at least 5,800 college students either left school or took time off because of the spread of the coronavirus between April and December of last year.The ministry of education conducted a survey of four-year universities and colleges, junior colleges and technical colleges across Japan. About 95%, or 1,009 schools, responded. The spread of the coronavirus was cited as one of the main reasons for students leaving school.The survey found that 1,367 students left school permanently, while 4,434 took some time off due to the pandemic. Overall, 28,647 students left school permanently during the eight month period. This is down about 20% from the same period of the previous year. 65,670 students left school temporarily, which is almost 10% less than the previous year.

    Ministry officials believe the decline is likely due to support mechanisms introduced during the pandemic. They say 99% of schools extended tuition payment deadlines for the second term and 74% either reduced or waived tuition for students facing financial difficulties.

    The government also rolled out a new national scholarship system for students from low income households last April. Officials say scholarships had been granted to nearly 270,000 students as of December.

    But Professor Suetomi Kaori, a child poverty expert at Nihon University, believes the system is letting down students just above the scholarship threshold. She says many such students work to support their families and may eventually be forced to drop out if the pandemic continues.

  • Toyota Motor Corp. on Tuesday began construction of a smart city at the foot of Mt. Fuji in central Japan as a testing ground for new technologies including robotics and artificial intelligence.About 360 people including Toyota employees will initially move to the so-called Woven City to be built at the 70.8-hectare former Toyota factory site in Susono, Shizuoka Prefecture, powered by electricity from fuel cells, which derive power from a hydrogen-oxygen reaction, in addition to solar panels.Toyota describes the city — run with partner companies such as telecommunications giant Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp. — as a “living laboratory” where it will test autonomous vehicles, robots and artificial intelligence in a real-world environment.

    The Japanese automaker has commissioned Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, who designed the 2 World Trade Center in New York City and Google’s headquarters in California, to plan the layout of the city.

    Toyota said the streets in Woven City will be designated for three type of usage — faster vehicles only, personal mobility and pedestrians and a pedestrians only promenade. The buildings will mostly be made of wood to minimize the carbon footprint, and the homes will use sensor-based AI to check the occupants’ health, it said.

Update on the Netherlands

Press conference on Tuesday 23 February.
  • On Tuesday evening, Outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Minister Hugo de Jonge (Public Health) announced several relaxations of the current corona rules.- Most contact professions (i.e. hairdressers, nail- and beauty salons, driving schools) can start working again from next Wednesday (3 March).- Secondary schools will partially open for on-site education from Monday 1 March.

    – Outdoor sports rules for young people up to the age of 27 will be relaxed.

    – Shopping by appointment is possible. Those who make an appointment at least four hours in advance may come to the store to pick up goods or, for example, fit clothes, etc. How time slots are managed is up to the stores, but only a maximum of two customers may be present on each floor at the same time and the face mask rule continues to apply.

    The curfew will remain in effect for the time being, for now until 15 March. According to the cabinet, rules such as the curfew are what makes the current relaxation possible.

  • The number of positive tests among residents and employees of nursing homes has decreased significantly since the start of the vaccination campaign, according to figures from the national corona dashboard. On 19 January, a day after the first residents were given their doses, infections had been diagnosed at nearly 800 locations. Five weeks later, this still concerns 464 locations.The number of infections reported per day is also decreasing sharply. In the week of 19 January, an average of 205 positive tests were administered daily among residents. In the past week, around 89 infections were reported to the RIVM everyday.The number of reports of corona-related deaths also fell sharply. In mid-January, an average of about 40 corona-related deaths were reported daily. In the past week, it was an average of 16 nursing home residents who died from COVID-19 per day.

    Residents and employees of nursing homes are given the Pfizer vaccine. In total, each person should receive two doses. The second dose should follow three to six weeks after the first injection. A significant part of the target group has therefore already been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

    Other figures from RIVM show that vaccination is the cause of the improvement in the situation in nursing homes. Thus, the number of new infections among the rest of the population remained unabated. The health institute indicates the corona figures for the past week on Tuesday afternoon.

  • Hospitality industry association KHN is taking the Dutch State to court over the coronavirus lockdown that has restaurants and other catering establishments largely closed since October. “We are close to despair,” the KHN said, NU.nl reports.The KHN referred to statements made by departing Health Minister Hugo de Jonge to the Telegraaf. He said: “Culture, events and sports are simply smaller and safer to organize. Also for the retail trade, apart from testing, you can make things possible sooner. When the catering industry opens, you get an enormous increase in contact moments and thus in infections. With that, all space disappears.”The KHN does not agree with this and therefore decided to go to court. “Catering entrepreneurs are close to despair and no longer accept the discrimination.” The association wants compensation and for the cabinet to reopen the catering industry as soon as possible. According to the KHN, the State is acting unlawfully “by violating the fundamental rights of catering businesses so seriously without properly substantiating the necessity thereof and without compensating the damage.” The KHN wants to inspect all advice and research the government used to decide on its coronavirus measures.

    “We are deeply disappointed in this cabinet. The epidemiological situation is persistently held onto, while the medical parameters on which decisions are based change regularly. Meanwhile, the catering industry is becoming increasingly oppressed,” KHN chairman Rober Willemsen said to NU.nl. “The mandatory closure of the catering industry plus the fact that the support form the government does not cover 100% of the costs, means that many entrepreneurs face bankruptcy, with all the consequences – both business and private – that entails.”

    The Ministry of Economic Affairs would not comment on the lawsuit to NU.nl, but did point out that the TVL scheme, which subsidizes some fixed costs for companies struggling under the lockdown, was expanded on 21 January. More entrepreneurs can make use of the aid and more support is granted. In the first week after the expanded scheme opened on 15 February, a massive 46,000 applications were received. 19,000 have already been approved, the Ministry said.

  • The government needs to do more for higher education students, student union LSVb said in a plea to open colleges and universities. “Students from colleges and universities fall by the wayside, but the cabinet doesn’t care about it,” LSVb vice president Freya Chiappino said in a press release.Primary schools and daycare facilities were allowed to reopen two weeks ago. Leaked reports state that secondary schools and vocational schools will soon be allowed to reopen, to a limited extent at least. But higher education remains closed.”The colleges and universities remain closed without any prospects. Students are expected to get by, but they’re stretched thin. They are sucked into their laptops and drown in loneliness. Students must no longer be the victims of this crisis. Higher education urgently needs perspective,” Chiappino said.

    According to the LSVb, no coronavirus infection clusters were traced back to higher education when it had more space last year. “Students have proven through various initiatives that they can deal with the measures in a responsible manner. Therefore, give them the breathing space they need. Safety comes first in all cases,” Chiappino said.

    If this does not improve soon, students will “not only start their lives with sky-high student debts, but if we are not careful, also with a huge developmental delay,” she said.

  • A temperature of 15 degrees was measured at the official weather station in De Bilt on Sunday at 12.40 pm, which is a new record, according to Weerplaza. Since the measurements began in 1901, it has never been this warm on 21 February.”We are dealing with an exceptionally early period of spring weather,” says Weerplaza. On Saturday, a temperature of 15.9 degrees was already reached in De Bilt. In some places in Noord-Brabant, temperatures of almost 18 degrees Celsius were reached.The beautiful weather has prompted many people to go out and enjoy the outdoors. It has been exceptionally busy on the various beaches and the boulevards of Scheveningen. Even the parking lot at Noordwijk beach is now full, the municipality reports.
  • Residents of The Hague can request a free tree from the municipality this year. The municipality adopted this GroenLinks plan in an attempt to make The Hague greener, both municipal land and private gardens. Schools can also request a tree, Omroep West reports.The Hague is one of the most densely populated cities in the Netherlands. The city currently counts around 120,000 city trees. The municipality aims to increase that by between 600 and 1,000 trees per year in the coming years.”It is good that we can contribute to an attractive and livable city, where we can better absorb the effects of climate change,” Arjen Kapteijns, leader of the GroenLinks faction in The Hague, said to the broadcaster. Trees not only provide oxygen, but also absorb rain water, and provide habitats for birds and insects that help maintain biodiversity.

    The intention is that the trees will be delivered in the autumn. The municipality hopes to especially encourage residents of areas with little greenery, like Escamp, Laak and the city center, to request a tree.

  • The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam is the first museum in the world to receive the highest attainable sustainability score of five stars for the management of an existing building, the museum said to NU.nl on Monday. The Rijksmuseum building received its high score in the certification of the BREEAM-NL In-Use sustainability label.BREEAM stands for Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method. It is an international certification method for sustainability and assesses, among other things, the use of energy and water, and waste. BREEAM is used in over 80 countries, including the Netherlands.”It is great that the Rijksmuseum received this recognition, but it does not stop here for us,” Rijksmuseum director Taco Dibbits said to NU.nl. “We will continue to work in the coming years to contribute to a sustainable world.”

    The Rijksmuseum aims to be off the natural gas network by 2030. And in the coming years, the museum wants to reduce its energy use by at least 2% per year. The building dates from 1885.

Update on Dujat & Members

  • Due to unforeseen circumstances, Concertgebouworkest was not able to present during the DUJAT cultural event for which they send their sincere apologies. They of course do want to give you an update. After one year of strict measurements, playing 1,5m distance and (nearly) no audience due to COVID-19, the Concertgebouworkest is looking forward with hope and gratitude to the next concert season.The orchestra is very pleased that Dominik Winterling and Ulrike Niehoff are joining the Concertgebouworkest’s Managing Board as from the first quarter of 2021. Together with David Bazen, the current interim managing director, they will form a three-member Managing Board.Preparations for programming in the 2021–22 season are in full swing, and the orchestra is eagerly looking forward to giving unforgettable live performances of the highest calibre for you once again. The orchestra hopes that they can travel again soon and that their first international tour will be to Japan in November this year! Owing to the uncertainty around the pandemic, they anticipate being able to announce the concert programming for the new season in the second quarter.

    Of course, they are still hoping to be able to perform for a live audience in the current season as well. But until then, the Concertgebouworkest is happy to visit you right in your very own home. Every Friday night at 8.00 p.m. CET, they are streaming a concert at concertgebouworkest.nl, and on Facebook and YouTube. The Concertgebouworkest is able to stream its concert programmes free of charge thanks to the generous support of donors and sponsors. Information about supporting the orchestra may be found at concertgebouworkest.nl/en/international-donations.

  • 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