JAPAN MEDIA HIGHLIGHTS
Morning Alert   -   Friday, April 17, 2020
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HEADLINES

Morning news

All TV networks and national newspapers gave extensive top coverage to reports that Prime Minister Abe announced on Thursday evening that the COVID-19 state of emergency has been expanded to include all 47 prefectures and will remain in effect through May 6.

COVID-19

GOJ expands state of emergency nationwide

All national dailies reported on Prime Minister Abe’s announcement last night that he was placing all 47 prefectures under a state of emergency, effective immediately, based on the assessment that the coronavirus outbreak appears to be spreading nationwide, as cluster infections have occurred across the country due to people’s movement from urban areas to the countryside. As a result of the declaration, which will be in effect through May 6, the governors of the 40 prefectures other than those that had already been placed under emergency will now be able to impose various restrictions to limit people-to-people contact. The premier reportedly cited the upcoming Golden Week holidays as one of the main reasons for expanding the state of emergency by saying: “We must minimize people’s movement during Golden Week. In order to end the emergency declaration on May 6, we must reduce people-to-people contact by at least 70% and preferably 80%.” Abe reportedly urged people not to make nonessential trips between prefectures. “Never cross prefectural borders for nonessential outings,” he said.

In addition to the seven prefectures already under a state of emergency, Hokkaido, Ibaraki, Ishikawa, Gifu, Aichi, and Kyoto were declared prefectures that should especially be on alert for the spread of the virus on account of a spike in infections there. The dailies noted that smartphone tracking records and other data have indicated that the number of people out and about has not declined drastically in these prefectures despite local outbreaks. The GOJ is reportedly afraid that healthcare systems in the countryside may be overwhelmed if infections that originated in metropolitan areas spread in rural Japan.”

Some prefectural leaders who have witnessed a surge in infection cases in their jurisdictions reportedly welcomed the expansion since they are now able to ask local businesses to close their operations. However, such business closure requests may not be heeded by some shop owners since unlike Tokyo and other wealthy urban prefectures, they probably will not be able to offer subsidies to encourage them to close. The dailies voiced concern that economic contraction may pick up additional momentum under the nationwide quasi-lockdown.    

The papers speculated that PM Abe chose to expand the state of emergency in view of a steady drop in public support for him, noting that more people are apparently supportive of Tokyo Governor Koike’s tough stance on combating the novel pathogen. Asahi and Mainichi claimed that the expansion appeared to be politically motivated rather than science-based, saying that even some public health experts on the GOJ coronavirus taskforce were caught by surprise by Abe’s decision to declare a nationwide state of emergency because several prefectures have reported none or only a few cases of infection. The two liberal dailies speculated that the premier chose to expand the scope of the state of emergency to justify his decision to replace the controversial 300,000-yen cash allowance plan with an across-the-board 100,000-yen allowance per person.       

GOJ to provide special allowance of 100,000 yen per person

All national dailies wrote that the GOJ and the ruling coalition agreed on Thursday to provide a one-off cash handout of 100,000 yen ($930) to all citizens regardless of income level in order to alleviate suffering from the coronavirus outbreak. The previous plan to extend 300,000 yen ($2,800) to individual households hit hard economically will be canceled. As a result, the GOJ is set to reconfigure the supplementary budget, which was originally to be submitted to the Diet on April 20, so as to finance the across-the-board 100,000-yen allowance initiative, which is expected to cost 12 trillion yen ($111 billion) in total. The Abe administration was reportedly forced to recall the 300,000-yen plan in the face of mounting public criticism that not many households would be entitled to it because of its multiple eligibility criteria.

The dailies explained that the LDP’s junior ruling partner Komeito party stepped up its pressure on the Abe administration to withdraw the unpopular 300,000-yen initiative and instead institute an across-the-board, 100,000-yen handout program. The opposition camp has also insisted on a cash allowance program “for all citizens without exception” based on the assessment that this will make it possible to swiftly deliver money to those in need since the administrative procedures can be kept to a minimum as the program does not involve income or other criteria to be examined for qualification. 

G7 leaders convene another videoconference on coronavirus pandemic

All papers wrote that the G7 leaders held their second videoconference on the COVID-19 outbreak last night, noting that during the 80-minute meeting, the participants agreed to coordinate closely to assist impoverished countries in Africa and elsewhere in overcoming the global health crisis. They also affirmed cooperation in developing drugs to treat the virus and share relevant data and expertise to combat it.

Abe calls COVID-19 pandemic “World War III”

Asahi reported that according to freelance political journalist Soichiro Tahara, Prime Minister Abe told him recently that the coronavirus outbreak is “World War III.” The reporter quoted Abe as saying: “I used to think WWIII would be a nuclear war, but I now believe this pandemic is WWIII.” The Japanese leader also reportedly disclosed to Tahara that most of his cabinet members voiced opposition when he declared a state of emergency covering seven prefectures on April 7 on account of the adverse impact it would have on the Japanese economy. Abe allegedly said these ministers’ “peacetime mindset” is not appropriate for waging war against an emerging virus.    

GOJ to secure 20,000 ventilators

Nikkei reported that the Health Ministry has implemented several steps to secure up to 20,000 ventilators to treat COVID-19 patients in serious condition, explaining that in addition to the some 8,000 currently available, it plans to procure 5,000 more either by renting or purchasing them. The ministry will also urge trading firms to import and commercial firms to produce 7,000 additional ventilators in total by promising that they will all be purchased by the central government. The ministry has reportedly allocated some 26.5 billion yen ($246 million) in a supplementary budget to finance these plans.  

Patients suspected of having COVID-19 rejected by numerous hospitals in Tokyo

TV Asahi reported on Tuesday on an increasing number of cases in Japan where patients in ambulances have been rejected by hospitals because they might have COVID-19. The network said that according to an official of the Tokyo Fire Department, it took about 90 minutes to find a hospital that would accept a man in his 40s who had a fever in Tokyo on April 9. The man was reportedly rejected by 40 hospitals. The network also reported on a case where it took more than six hours to find a hospital for a patient in an ambulance at night. The network said hospitals have various reasons for rejecting such patients, such as not being able to conduct PCR testing, not having enough protective gear, and not being equipped to accept such patients. The network said the Tokyo government is reportedly aware of the situation and taking measures to resolve the issue, such as sharing with the fire department a list of hospitals that accept such patients. 

INTERNATIONAL

ROK to maintain hard line toward Japan

Yomiuri wrote from Seoul on the ruling Democratic Party’s landslide victory in the general election there on Wednesday, projecting that as President Moon has now regained his grip on power, he will probably maintain his tough approach toward Japan on bilateral disputes, such as former requisitioned workers and export controls. Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga told the press yesterday that the forced labor conflict remains the most serious issue of concern between the two governments, adding that Tokyo will continue to press Seoul to rectify what it calls the ROK government’s violation of international law.  

SECURITY

Seven out of ten Japanese support U.S.-Japan alliance

Yomiuri and Mainichi reported on the result of a nationwide public opinion survey conducted by MOFA in March showing that some 69% of Japanese expressed support for the U.S.-Japan security alliance, while 28% felt otherwise. Almost 79% said the two partners should strengthen their security ties, up 19 points from two years ago. The ministry reportedly speculated that more Japanese are concerned about an increasingly severe security environment in East Asia because of North Korea’s nuclear and missile development.  

U.S. military launches team to investigate PFOS leak in Okinawa

Asahi took up the disclosure by Defense Minister Kono at the Diet yesterday that the U.S. military has established an investigation team to investigate the recent incident in which foam extinguisher containing perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) leaked out of MCAS Futenma into a local river. While mentioning the Okinawa Defense Bureau’s request to U.S. military authorities for Japanese access to the installation to conduct an onsite investigation, Kono said: “We are strongly calling on the U.S. side to allow access. Final arrangements are underway to launch a Japanese investigation immediately.” Pressed by an opposition lawmaker on whether the GOJ should demand that the U.S. cover the cost borne by the Ginowan municipal government to retrieve the leaked foam, Foreign Minister Motegi suggested that such a request may be filed with the USG if necessary after conducting an investigation.

Construction at Henoko suspended today as worker was infected with COVID-19

NHK reported this morning that the Okinawa Defense Bureau announced on Thursday that a person engaged in the construction work at Henoko, Nago, for the relocation of MCAS Futenma has tested positive for the new coronavirus. The person was reportedly spending time while off duty with an acquaintance who also tested positive. The network said the construction workers who had close contact with the person are already self-quarantining at home and the building where the person was working has been disinfected. The network added that construction work will be suspended on Friday.  

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