Morning Alert   -   Thursday, April 2, 2020
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Morning news

NHK gave top play to a report that there were 266 new cases of COVID-19 in Japan on Wednesday, surpassing 200 for two consecutive days. Fuji TV and TV Asahi led with reports that an infant in Yamanashi has tested positive for the virus and is currently unconscious. Her parents reportedly tested negative. NTV and TBS led with reports on a press conference held last night by members of a government panel of experts on COVID-19, who warned that Japan’s healthcare system could collapse before an explosive rise of cases occurs in urban areas.

Top stories in national dailies included the warning by the experts’ panel (Asahi, Yomiuri, Sankei), Japan’s low rate of coronavirus testing (Nikkei), and the Tankan survey showing a plunge in business sentiment (Mainichi).


Abe dismisses need to declare state of emergency at this stage

All national dailies wrote that Prime Minister Abe said at an Upper House Audit Committee meeting on Wednesday that now is not the time to declare a state of emergency in response to the new coronavirus pandemic while describing the current situation as “a national calamity that Japan has not experienced since the end of WWII.” Abe added that there may be a misunderstanding about what Japan can do under a state of emergency, saying that the nation would not be able to enforce a lockdown in the manner seen in France because Japan’s legal system for emergencies does not grant powers on par with those of European countries.

Experts warn that healthcare system could collapse ahead of explosive rise of COVID-19 cases

All national dailies reported extensively on the recommendations by the GOJ experts’ panel on the new coronavirus that were submitted to the government on Wednesday. The panel reportedly warned that Japan’s healthcare system could collapse before a sharp increase in coronavirus infections occurs in urban areas. The panel stressed that it is necessary for Tokyo and the prefectures of Kanagawa, Aichi, Osaka, and Hyogo to take drastic measures as quickly as possible to prevent the healthcare system from collapsing. Pointing out that the number of coronavirus patients whose routes of infection are unknown is drastically increasing recently, the panel recommended that people refrain from nonessential outings and schools consider remaining closed. However, the panel also said that responses may differ depending on the scope of the spread of the infection in each area. The panel also called for citizens’ cooperation by asking them to avoid gathering in large numbers and visiting nightspots.

In a related development, all national dailies wrote that the Tokyo metropolitan government decided on Wednesday to extend the current closure of public high schools until the end of the Golden Week holidays that finish on May 6 in response to the recommendations made on Wednesday by the GOJ experts’ panel. The paper speculated that most Tokyo cities will decide to extend the current closure of public elementary and middle schools until May 6.

Tokyo and neighboring prefectures, cities agree on joint message

Nikkei wrote that Tokyo and nine neighboring prefectures and major municipalities, including Saitama, Chiba, and Kanagawa prefectures and the cities of Yokohama and Kawasaki, held a videoconference on Wednesday and decided on a joint message asking their residents to refrain from nonessential outings.

GOJ to provide cloth face masks to all households in Japan

All national dailies wrote that Prime Minister Abe said at a GOJ taskforce headquarters meeting on Wednesday that the government will distribute reusable cloth face masks to all 50 million households in Japan. Each household with a registered postal address will receive two washable cloth masks starting the week after next. The distribution of masks is part of the economic package that the government will compile next week. Abe stressed that providing reusable masks will be helpful in responding to the rapidly increasing demand for masks and that the provision will start with prefectures that have large numbers of coronavirus cases.

Doctors’ group says physicians on frontlines in crisis due to spike in COVID-19 cases

Asahi, Yomiuri, and Nikkei wrote that the Japan Medical Association issued a statement on Wednesday saying that the doctors on the frontlines are in crisis because they need to deal with soaring numbers of coronavirus cases while treating other patients. The physicians’ group urged the GOJ to declare a state of emergency by saying that hospital beds are running short in some areas and that it will be too late if the government makes a declaration after the number of cases has already risen explosively.

Japan to request all travelers from foreign countries to self-quarantine, expand entry ban

Asahi, Yomiuri, Mainichi, and Sankei wrote that in response to the rise in coronavirus cases in Japan, the GOJ decided at a meeting of the GOJ coronavirus taskforce headquarters on Wednesday to ask all travelers entering the country to self-quarantine for two weeks at designated places such as their homes or hotels upon arrival. Travelers from overseas, including Japanese citizens, will also be asked to refrain from using public transportation to get to their designated self-quarantine locations. The measure is to be in place from April 3 to the end of the month. The government also decided to expand its entry ban on foreign visitors to cover a total of 73 countries and regions, an additional 49 nations including the United States, the UK, China, and South Korea. The papers wrote that the measure will go into force at 12:00 a.m. on April 3.  

66 new coronavirus cases confirmed in Tokyo on Wednesday

Asahi, Yomiuri, and Mainichi wrote that Tokyo confirmed 66 new cases on Wednesday, bringing the total number of COVID-19 infections in Tokyo to 587, and that the routes of infection is unknown for 38 of the 66 patients. Among the 66, 45 or about 70% of them, are under 50 years old. The papers also wrote that the total number of coronavirus infections in Japan topped 3,217 on Wednesday.

Major Japanese manufacturers to begin producing sanitizing products in U.S., Europe

NHK reported that major Japanese cosmetics manufacturer Shiseido and beverage maker Suntory will produce sanitizers at their factories in the U.S. and Europe to provide them to the medical institutions there that are facing a shortage of such products. According to the network, Shiseido began producing sanitizing products at its factory in France from March 27 at the request of the French government. The cosmetics maker will also begin manufacturing the products at its factory in the U.S. from April 6 and will provide them to medical institutions there for free. The network also reported that Suntory will begin producing sanitizing products at its whiskey distillery in Kentucky as early as this week at the request of the local government and will provide them to medical institutions there. The network said neither of the companies are planning to produce sanitizers in Japan.

Secretary Pompeo hints at rethinking sanctions on Iran

Mainichi wrote that Secretary of State Pompeo hinted at the possibility of the United States rethinking its economic sanctions on Iran in light of the rapid spread of the new coronavirus around the world. The paper wrote that in response to a question from a reporter on whether the United States would consider a UN request for sanctions relief during a press conference held at the State Department on Tuesday, the Secretary reportedly said the United States evaluates all of its policies constantly. The paper noted, however, that the Secretary also said some countries continue to build missiles and nuclear capability while their people are starving, apparently with Iran and North Korea in mind.


U.S. expresses readiness for second stage of trade negotiations with Japan

Mainichi ran a Kyodo report from Washington saying that the U.S. Trade Representative released its annual report on foreign trade barriers on Tuesday. Kyodo said that the USTR expressed readiness to hold the second stage of trade negotiations with Japan by saying that it will hold further discussions with Japan on trade in services and investment. The wire service said the USTR also referred to Japan’s import restrictions on rice and wheat as trade barriers by saying Japan’s nontransparent import and distribution system limits U.S. exporters’ access to Japanese consumers.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team