Morning Alert   -   Thursday, March 5, 2020
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Morning news

NHK gave top play to a report that extracorporeal life support machines are being used on at least 15 people in Japan to treat the new coronavirus, saying that four of the patients are now recovering. NTV led with a report that preparations are underway to hold the high school baseball tournament in spring that is scheduled to begin on March 19 with no spectators due to the spread of the new coronavirus. TBS gave top play to a report that the number of people infected with the virus in Japan increased by 36 on Wednesday alone. TV Asahi reported on a cluster of infections at a live music venue in Osaka. Fuji TV led with a report that IOC chief Bach told the press on Monday that the committee is fully committed to holding a successful Olympics in Tokyo this summer.

Top items in national dailies included the results of the Super Tuesday presidential primaries in the U.S. and Prime Minister Abe's talks with opposition leaders on proposed legislation to contain the coronavirus.


Abe calls for opposition support for swift enactment of legislation to combat COVID-19

All national dailies wrote that Prime Minister Abe held meetings with the leaders of five opposition parties on Wednesday and asked for their cooperation in quickly enacting legislation to amend an existing law stipulating the government's response to influenza and other previously unknown diseases. The revision is designed to apply the statute to the novel coronavirus for up to two years starting retroactively on Feb. 1 when the pathogen was officially classified as a designated infectious disease. If the legislation is enacted, prefectural governors would be authorized to curtail people's civil liberties sharply to contain the virus pending the declaration of a state of emergency by the prime minister.

Abe reportedly told the press afterward that all political parties, irrespective of their ideologies, must cooperate to overcome this "national crisis." Sankei speculated that the prime minister openly reached out to the opposition bloc perhaps in a bid to deflect mounting public criticism of the administration's response to the rapid spread of the virus by directly involving it in the enactment of a law that may drastically curtail civil liberties.

While criticizing the administration's handling of the virus outbreak, the opposition chiefs reportedly promised their support for swift enactment. Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan leader Edano told the press afterward that the government is "responsible for creating a situation that does not warrant the declaration of a state of emergency." While predicting that the legislation will be enacted next week, Yomiuri said attention will be focused on whether the premier chooses to declare a state of emergency. An unnamed senior GOJ official reportedly said while a spate of cluster infections could trigger such a declaration, the government is committed to minimizing restrictions on civil liberties.

In a related article, Nikkei noted that Japan's response to the new virus seems to be less stringent than those by other nations' governments, conjecturing that the GOJ has been reluctant to adopt harsh measures out of consideration for China since Japan relies heavily on the nation in the economic and tourism sectors. The GOJ has also reportedly been cautious about taking drastic steps in view of the upcoming Tokyo Olympics and out of fear of triggering public criticism of restrictions on civil liberties.

Government spokesman comments on possibility of U.S. travel restrictions for Japan

Asahi reported that Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga on Wednesday commented on President Trump's remarks on Tuesday suggesting that the U.S. may impose restrictions on travelers from Japan because of the rapid spread of the coronavirus. The government spokesman reportedly said: "We will provide the U.S. government with accurate and detailed updates on the status of infection in Japan and measures that are in place to contain the disease."

In a related development, Sankei and Yomiuri took up remarks made at the Diet yesterday by Prime Minister Abe, who said the administration takes seriously WHO Director-General Tedros's remark that Japan is one of the nations of "greatest concern." Yomiuri added, however, that the GOJ reportedly asked the WHO to correct its top official's comment, as Tokyo is increasingly alarmed by the restrictions on travelers from Japan being adopted by a growing number of foreign countries. An unnamed senior MOFA official reportedly said: "Japan is now being viewed as a country with a high risk of infection." According to the daily, Tedros said after Tokyo filed the complaint that 80% of the infections that have been detected in locations other than China have been in South Korea, Iran, and Italy.

In a related development, all national dailies took up the announcement made by Guangdong Province of China yesterday that travelers from Japan, South Korea, Italy, and Iran will be quarantined for two weeks upon arrival in the region.

New York universities to recall students studying in Japan

NHK reported early this morning that New York Governor Cuomo announced on Wednesday that students in the State University of New York and City University of New York systems who are studying in Japan, South Korea, China, Italy, and Iran will be recalled to the U.S. The network said these students will be quarantined for 14 days upon their return. The governor reportedly disclosed that there are a total of 300 students from the two systems studying in these nations. Kyodo News ran a similar report.

More than 1,000 people infected with coronavirus in Japan

All national dailies reported that as of last night, a total of 1,035 people had tested positive for the novel coronavirus in Japan, including 712 passengers and crew members of the Diamond Princess. An additional 36 cases were confirmed on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Asahi reported on a Health Ministry announcement yesterday that a total of 74 foreign passengers of the Diamond Princess, including 45 Americans, 10 Australians, and eight Hong Kong residents, have tested positive for COVID-19 after they returned home on government-chartered planes.

98.7% of public schools in Japan now closed

Sankei wrote that according to the Education Ministry, a total of 32,384 public elementary, junior high, and high schools across Japan, or 98.7%, are now closed in response to Prime Minister Abe's request for nationwide school closure. More than 90% of private schools are also closed.

Spring high school baseball tournament likely to be held without spectators

All national dailies reported that this year's National High School Baseball Invitational Tournament will probably be held without spectators due to concerns over the spread of the novel coronavirus. The organizing committee is reportedly expected to make a final decision on March 11 by taking into account further developments, such as the number of infections and public response to the proposed no-spectator tourney. Since similar national events for other high school sports, such as basketball and rugby, have already been called off, the committee will also consider the possibility of canceling the extremely popular event.

Tokyo government urges people not to hold cherry blossom viewing parties

Asahi and Mainichi wrote that the Tokyo metropolitan government on Wednesday issued a request for the general public not to convene or attend cherry blossom viewing events at major municipal parks in order to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus.

Olympic torch event to be scaled down

All national papers reported that the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee has decided to scale back the ceremony for the arrival of the Olympic torch scheduled for March 20 at an ASDF base in Miyagi Prefecture on account of the coronavirus outbreak, saying that only 250 guests, instead of the initially planned 1,000, will be invited. The committee may also urge the general public not to come and watch the nationwide torch relay that is expected to start in Fukushima Prefecture on March 26.

Japanese manufacturer to develop new virus test kit

Nikkei front-paged Shimadzu's announcement yesterday that it plans to develop by the end of this month a new type of coronavirus diagnostic test kit that can detect COVID-19 in samples within an hour, much faster than the existing PCR methodology.


Domestic pilots say no safety issues with new flight paths to Haneda

Asahi and Mainichi wrote that the Transport Ministry held a hearing on Wednesday for JAL and ANA pilots who conducted test flights on two newly established flight paths to Haneda Airport last month. Concerning the ministry's instructions for aircraft to use a steep 3.45-degree approach when landing at the airport, Asahi reported that the pilots said there will be no safety issues if they are allowed to use alternative landing methods flexibly. According to Mainichi, the pilots requested that after flying to the airport at a 3.45-degree angle in the early phase of the final approach, they be allowed to adjust to 3 degrees once the aircraft has descended to an altitude of 450 meters.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team