Morning Alert   -   Thursday, March 12, 2020
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Morning news

All broadcasters led with reports that the head of the WHO said on Wednesday that the coronavirus outbreak can be described as a pandemic. WHO Director General Tedros was quoted as saying: "We are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity. We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic." The WHO chief also reportedly said the number of cases, deaths, and affected nations will increase in the coming days and weeks.

All national dailies except Nikkei led with reports related to the ninth anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake yesterday. Nikkei's top item was a GOJ plan to put together an emergency economic stimulus package next month to address the rapid economic deceleration caused by the coronavirus outbreak. The package will reportedly include cash allowances for parents who have been forced to take time off from work to look after their children as a result of school closures and subsidies for firms to encourage employees to telework.


Legislation on virus response clears lower house committee

All national dailies reported that the GOJ-sponsored legislation on responding to the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus cleared the Lower House Cabinet Committee on Wednesday after only three hours of deliberations. While most opposition parties endorsed the bill, they adopted an accompanying resolution asking the government to report to the Diet in advance if it decides to declare a state of emergency. The opposition had initially insisted on including a provision mandating parliamentary consent prior to issuing such a declaration. On the possibility of the central and local governments taking measures to contain the disease that would drastically compromise civil liberties, Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister Nishimura, who is responsible for the legislation, said during yesterday's committee hearing that the Abe administration is determined to do its utmost to bring the outbreak under control quickly so that it does not have to play its "trump card." He added that since the legislation contains the phrase "respect for basic human rights," restrictions on civil liberties will be kept to a minimum. The bill is expected to be approved by the plenary session of the Lower House today for additional deliberation at the Upper House before it is enacted tomorrow.

Almost 19,000 diagnostic tests administered for COVID-19

Yomiuri reported on Health Ministry data showing that a total of 18,835 PCR virus diagnostic tests for COVID-19 were performed nationwide from Jan. 15 through March 7. As of March 7, the entire nation had the capacity to process 2,700 samples. While Kanagawa Prefecture had the capacity to handle as many as 190 samples a day, Iwate, Yamanashi, and four other prefectures were only capable of processing 20. Yomiuri added that the current capacity for testing is close to 6,100 samples per day nationwide.

Member of Tokyo Olympic organizing panel mentions one- to two-year postponement

Asahi reported that an influential member of the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee told the daily yesterday that he personally believes that the idea of postponing the Olympic and Paralympic Games by one or two years should be pursued due to the global coronavirus outbreak. The official reportedly stressed that holding the games in the summer of 2022 would be preferable because many international sports events have already been scheduled for next year. Chairman Mori of the organizing committee reportedly expressed displeasure with the suggestion, criticizing the member for making "careless remarks."

Other papers ran similar stories, with Yomiuri adding that Tokyo Olympics Minister Hashimoto also dismissed the possibility of postponement by saying at the Diet yesterday that preparations are underway for the Games to be held this summer as scheduled.

Spring high school baseball tournament canceled

All national dailies reported that the organizing committee of the National High School Baseball Invitational Tournament decided yesterday not to hold the annual spring contest this year on account of the coronavirus outbreak. The committee chairman reportedly said the current situation warrants cancellation in order to "protect the players' health."

Florida couple sues Princess Cruise Lines over COVID-19 infection on Grand Princess

Sankei wrote that a Florida couple on the Grand Princess has filed a lawsuit with a federal court in California seeking Princess Cruise Lines to pay $1 million in compensation for psychological damage they sustained while on the cruise liner. The plaintiffs, who boarded the ship on Feb. 22, are reportedly insisting that the operator failed to inform the passengers of the risk of the coronavirus in advance.

U.S.-Japan ceremony on Ioto Island to be suspended

Sankei wrote that the USG and the GOJ have decided not to hold this year's annual ceremony commemorating the end of the Battle of Iwo Jima due to the coronavirus outbreak. Defense Minister Kono and other senior Japanese and USG officials and officers of the two militaries planned to attend this year's event slated for March 28. The joint memorial event has been held every year since 1996 except for 2011 on account of the Great East Japan Earthquake.

Japan, ROK at odds over Tokyo's decision to limit entry of South Koreans

Mainichi reported on the mounting tensions between Japan and South Korea over Japan's decision last week to restrict the entry of Koreans as part of measures to prevent the infiltration of the novel coronavirus. Seoul is reportedly displeased that it was not given sufficient information in advance on the de facto quarantine measures for its citizens. The Japanese side reportedly gave the Korean side a "heads-up" only because it believed that "prior consultations" were not necessary. Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga reportedly told the press yesterday that Japan's position was conveyed to the ROK side in advance and that detailed explanations on the measures were also given afterward.

Japan asks UN to postpone major conference planned for next month in Kyoto

Sankei wrote that the GOJ recently conveyed to the UN that it will probably be difficult for Japan to host the United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice in Kyoto on April 20 as originally planned on account of the ongoing spread of the coronavirus. Thousands of officials from more than 100 nations are expected to attend the international meeting on criminal justice that has been held every five years. The UN will make a final decision on the proposed postponement shortly.

Japan to extend medical aid to Iran

Yomiuri wrote that according to several GOJ sources, Japan has decided to provide Iran with medical assistance worth some $24 million through the WHO and five other international organizations to help it combat the coronavirus. Protective gear, diagnostic instruments, and training for local medical professionals will be offered.


MOD panel approves existing method to check seabed off Camp Schwab

All national papers except Sankei reported on yesterday's meeting of a panel of geologists and engineers commissioned by the Defense Ministry to examine its plan to reinforce the soft seabed off the coast of Camp Schwab as part of the FRF construction initiative. While noting that the opposition bloc has urged the ministry to conduct additional research in response to a view presented by some that the soft seabed in the vicinity is much deeper than the ministry has calculated, the papers noted that the experts' team found "no problem" with the methodology used by the ministry to check the depth of the soft seabed.

MOD to extend field surveys in Tohoku for deployment of missile defense platform

All national dailies took up a Defense Ministry announcement on Wednesday that onsite surveys currently being conducted at 20 places in the Tohoku region to identify a location for the deployment of an Aegis Ashore battery will be extended beyond the current deadline of March 20 through at least the end of April because of intermittent foul weather.


U.S. approves use of shinkansen system

Yomiuri reported that the U.S. Department of Transportation released safety guidelines on Tuesday concerning the planned construction of a bullet train system in Texas, saying that the release was a de facto endorsement of Central Japan Railway's plan to export its shinkansen trains and operating system. The USG reportedly gave high marks to the fact that no fatal accidents involving technical glitches have ever occurred since the shinkansen service began decades ago. As the department is likely to officially approve Japan's bullet train safety system in the summer, Texas Central Partners is eyeing starting construction by the end of this year of a high-speed train line connecting North Texas and Greater Houston in 90 minutes.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team