Morning Alert   -   Monday, April 20, 2020
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Morning news

NHK and Fuji TV gave top play to reports that an earthquake with a seismic intensity of 4 hit Iwate and Miyagi prefectures early this morning. NTV led with a report that 107 additional cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Tokyo on Sunday, saying that the number of cases confirmed in Tokyo has increased by 1,000 over the last seven days. TBS and TV Asahi gave top play to reports that the number of COVID-19 patients in Tokyo has now surpassed 3,000.

Top stories in national dailies included the GOJ’s decision to allow local governments to use its extraordinary grants to compensate local businesses for suspending their operations (Yomiuri), privacy concerns over the use of smartphone location data to track COVID-19 infection routes (Asahi), a Japanese doctor’s account of his experiences in New York during the coronavirus pandemic (Mainichi), an increase in production of the anti-flu drug Avigan (Sankei), and various countries’ measures to maintain their employment rates amid the shrinking economy (Nikkei).


Chargé Young: U.S.-Japan cooperation “holds forth the hope of good news”

The Sunday edition of Mainichi carried an op-ed by Chargé d’Affaires Young, who wrote that the cooperative relationship between the United States and Japan has become an important asset in their respective efforts to address the mounting challenges of COVID-19 in this 60th year of the U.S.-Japan alliance. He noted that just as Japan helped with the repatriation of American passengers from the Diamond Princess and the hospitalization of those infected on the vessel, the United States helped with the return of Japanese citizens from several countries. He also touched on joint bilateral trials on potential coronavirus treatments, increasing collaboration in the manufacturing sector to produce medical equipment, and the critical role played by communications technology amid the need for social distancing. The Chargé concluded by writing: “Just as the U.S.-Japan alliance promotes peace and stability, our collaborative endeavor to defeat the virus is yielding significant contributions to global health and safety.”

PM Abe urges people to stay home, apologizes for confusion over cash handouts

All national dailies reported on Saturday on a press conference held by Prime Minister Abe at the Kantei on Friday evening. He reportedly reiterated his call for people to refrain from going out ahead of the Golden Week holidays. The premier also apologized for "causing confusion” with the last-minute reworking of a draft budget to realize a plan to provide 100,000-yen cash handouts to all citizens. Abe reportedly pointed out that the goal to minimize people-to-people contact by 70 to 80% has not been met, and explained that the state of emergency was expanded to include all prefectures in order to empower local governments to take necessary measures to prevent the influx of people before the Golden Week holidays. In addition, the premier reportedly disclosed a plan to double the reimbursement to hospitals treating seriously ill COVID-19 patients to help support medical care workers.

Six more prefectures to ask businesses to suspend operations amid COVID-19 outbreak

The Saturday edition of Nikkei reported that in addition to the seven prefectures initially placed under a state of emergency, the six others that were designated as prefectures that should especially be on alert for the spread of COVID-19 have announced that they will request businesses to close temporarily. The paper noted, however, that prefectures other than the designated ones are hesitant to ask businesses to close as they lack sufficient financial resources to provide subsidies to them.

MHLW to conduct COVID-19 antibody testing

The Saturday editions of Asahi, Nikkei, and Mainichi reported that the MHLW will conduct antibody testing for COVID-19 to determine the extent and speed of the spread of the virus. Nikkei said the MHLW is preparing to begin the testing as early as this month. According to Asahi, the tests will be conducted on several thousand people. The papers wrote that unlike PCR tests, which detect the presence of the virus itself, antibody tests can identify who has been infected with the coronavirus and recovered.

Over 210,000 hotel rooms secured to treat coronavirus patients

Kyodo News reported on Sunday that Economic Revitalization Minister Nishimura told reporters that the GOJ has secured over 210,000 hotel rooms nationwide to accommodate COVID-19 patients with mild or no symptoms. The GOJ has also reportedly received 120,000 face masks from companies and will provide them to hospital staff amid product shortages, the minister told reporters after inspecting the University of Tokyo Hospital where patients with severe symptoms have been treated. Of the hotel rooms secured, the GOJ has already concluded contracts for about 6,000, Nishimura said.

In a related story, Monday’s Nikkei wrote that local governments throughout Japan are securing more hospital beds for COVID-19 patients. The paper wrote that although a Nikkei survey showed that about 10,000 beds have already been secured at hospitals nationwide, the local governments are making additional efforts to increase the number of beds because the number of COVID-19 patients in Japan has exceeded 10,000.

Number of COVID-19 cases tops 10,800 in Japan

The Monday editions of all national dailies wrote that 107 new coronavirus cases were confirmed on Sunday in Tokyo, bringing the total number of infections in the city to 3,082. The papers wrote that 374 new cases were confirmed across Japan on Sunday and the number of infections nationwide has now surpassed 10,800. The Sunday edition of Nikkei wrote that the number of days in which more than 500 new cases are confirmed nationwide is increasing, saying that Japan is still on the cusp of an explosive rise in infections. The daily stressed the need for people to curb the spread of the coronavirus by continuing to refrain from going out under the nationwide state of emergency. 


Poll: 53% disapprove of Abe administration’s response to coronavirus outbreak

Monday’s Mainichi front-paged the results of its nationwide telephone poll conducted on Saturday and Sunday. Reportedly 53% of the respondents did not approve of the Abe administration’s response to the new coronavirus outbreak, while 39% did. Noting that the rate of approval dropped from 49% from a month ago, the paper speculated that the timing of the administration’s decision to declare a state of emergency and plan to provide cash allowances probably affected the public’s feelings on the cabinet’s handling of the crisis. Support for the Abe cabinet stood at 41%, down 2 percentage points, while nonsupport stood at 42%, up 4 points.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga left out of the loop on crisis management

The Saturday edition of Asahi reported that shifts in Japan’s political dynamics have caused confusion within the Abe administration over the coronavirus outbreak. The paper wrote that Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga, who has strong connections with LDP Secretary General Nikai and the Komeito party, and Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Sugita, who gathers information from each ministry and agency, have conventionally been in charge of crisis management within the Abe administration. However, Prime Minister Abe's aides took the lead in the decision to request nationwide school closures in February, according to Asahi. Not only Education Minister Hagiuda but also Suga and Sugita were reportedly left out of the loop on the matter. Both Suga and Sugita were also reportedly cautious about the idea of expanding the state of emergency declaration nationwide, but their views were not considered. The paper also wrote that while Tokyo Governor Koike is increasing her presence in opinion polls as a possible post-Abe candidate along with former LDP Secretary General Ishiba, LDP policy chief Kishida, another post-Abe candidate, suffered a setback because his personal idea of providing 300,000 yen to households in need has been cast aside.


Japan to jointly develop next-generation fighter with U.S.

The Sunday edition of Sankei reported that the GOJ has decided to set up a working group of Japanese and U.S. firms on the development of a next-generation fighter to replace the ASDF’s F-2. The paper said that although the UK was once a strong candidate for Japan’s development partner, the establishment of the working group means that the GOJ will make final arrangements to jointly develop the next-generation fighter with the U.S. The fighter will be the first domestically produced stealth fighter and is expected to be deployed starting in 2035 when the F-2 fighters are retired. Monday’s Asahi ran a similar report.

Coronavirus pandemic beginning to affect SDF’s overseas activities

The Sunday edition of Yomiuri reported that the coronavirus pandemic is beginning to affect the SDF’s overseas missions and the Defense Ministry is closely monitoring the situation with their possible suspension in mind. According to the paper, although the MSDF P-3C aircraft unit that has deployed in the Middle East since January was supposed to be replaced this month, the MOD has decided to only replace the aircraft and have the 60 troops continue their mission for the time being due to the strict entry restrictions currently being enforced by the Djibouti government. The daily wrote that there are also two MSDF destroyers in waters off Somalia, saying that although their crews are allowed to obtain supplies at the port of Oman, they are not allowed to disembark. The two GSDF officials dispatched for the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) to oversee the terms of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel are also reportedly facing a similar situation because replacing them later this month as scheduled appears difficult. Kono reportedly told the press that SDF members may have to be withdrawn in the worst-case scenario.

DM Kono says construction work at Henoko to continue

The Saturday edition of Nikkei reported that Defense Minister Kono indicated that the Futenma relocation work at Henoko, Nago, will continue following a temporary suspension on Friday after one worker tested positive for the coronavirus. Kono reportedly said: “We will suspend the work if the contractor wishes to do so, but so far it has not expressed such a wish.”

U.S. Air Force ends deployment of B-52 bombers in Guam

Monday’s Sankei front-paged a report saying that the U.S. Air Force announced on April 17 that it will no longer base strategic bombers outside of the continental United States. The five B-52 strategic bombers deployed at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam were relocated to Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota on April 16. The paper wrote that the Air Force explained that the move is part of its “dynamic force employment” concept, under which the Air Force will build interoperability with allies and partners of the United States and bolster its collective ability to be operationally unpredictable. The Air Force also said that U.S. strategic bombers will continue to operate in the Indo-Pacific, including Guam, at the timing and tempo of its choosing.


President Trump reportedly says he received letter from Kim Jong Un

Monday’s Yomiuri wrote that President Trump told reporters on Saturday that he recently received a “nice note” from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The paper wrote that although the President did not disclose its contents, he reportedly stressed that he maintains good relations with the DPRK leader. Noting that the President sent a letter to Kim Jong Un last month as part of his efforts to seek cooperation with foreign leaders in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, the paper speculated that the latest communication might have been a reply from Kim. However, North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency reported on Sunday on a statement by a foreign ministry spokesperson saying that the supreme leadership did not send a letter recently to the U.S. President. Monday’s Mainichi ran a similar Kyodo report.

China moves to create fait accompli in South China Sea

Monday’s Yomiuri claimed that China’s recent announcement that it has established two new districts to administer artificial islands in the South China Sea is intended to create a fait accompli in its effort to change the status quo by force. China announced on Saturday that it has created two new districts to administer the Paracel Islands and the Spratly Islands, according to the paper. Yomiuri wrote that countries in the region will likely react strongly to a Chinese move that seemed timed to their being pressed to respond to the new coronavirus.

Japan-Russia summit to be postponed

The Saturday edition of Nikkei reported that the summit between Prime Minister Abe and Russian President Putin planned for May will be postponed. President Putin reportedly announced on Thursday that a celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Soviet victory in WWII will be postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The paper wrote that Abe was considering attending the ceremony and holding a summit with Putin to discuss peace treaty negotiations, including the issue of the Northern Territories. The daily added that Abe and Putin have not met since September 2019. While Foreign Minister Motegi and Foreign Minister Lavrov agreed in February that Lavrov would visit Japan at an early date, neither the visit nor vice-ministerial level talks have been arranged.

PM Abe says he has no intention to cut funding for WHO

The Saturday edition of Nikkei reported that Prime Minister Abe said at a press conference on Friday that he has no intention to cut Japan’s funding for the WHO and said nations must support the UN health agency. Concerning President Trump’s criticism that the WHO is biased toward China, the premier reportedly pointed out: “The organization does face challenges. We should fully verify its function after the coronavirus outbreak has been contained.” The paper wrote that the G7 leaders also discussed the WHO during their teleconference held on Thursday, saying that Foreign Minister Motegi disclosed to the press that Abe called on the international community to unite around the WHO in order to respond to the infectious disease that is having severe repercussions for the world. The Saturday edition of Yomiuri carried a similar report, adding that the U.S., the current chair of the G7, announced that the G7 leaders confirmed the need for thorough verification and reform of the WHO.

MOFA starts webcasting FM Motegi’s press conferences

The Saturday edition of Nikkei and the Sunday edition of Yomiuri reported that MOFA began broadcasting Foreign Minister Motegi’s daily press conferences online on Friday. Yomiuri wrote that the foreign minister’s press briefings will be webcast on MOFA’s official Twitter account with simultaneous interpretation into English. The daily said the move is aimed at enhancing information dissemination following criticism from overseas of the Japanese government’s handling of the COVID-19 outbreak on the Diamond Princess. According to Yomiuri, this is the first time for press conferences by a cabinet minister to be broadcast online with simultaneous interpretation. The webcasts are expected to continue even after the COVID-19 outbreak is contained in order to disseminate information on Japan’s foreign policy and MOFA’s efforts.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team