Morning Alert   -   Friday, May 1, 2020
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Morning news

All broadcasters and several national dailies gave top play to reports that Prime Minister Abe expressed his intention yesterday to extend the nationwide state of emergency over the coronavirus pandemic beyond May 6. The GOJ is reportedly expected to make a final decision on the matter as early as May 4.

Front-page stories in national papers included the passage of the FY2020 supplementary budget to combat the coronavirus outbreak and the GOJ’s plan to launch a fund in collaboration with the private sector to boost the capital of mid-sized companies hit hard by the outbreak.


PM Abe indicates intention to extend of state of emergency

All national papers reported on remarks made to the press last night by Prime Minister Abe in which he implied that he intends to extend the nationwide state of emergency over the coronavirus outbreak beyond May 6. He was quoted as saying: “It will be difficult for the nation to go back to normal beginning on May 7. We need to be prepared for a war of endurance.” Abe underscored that the current situation is still extremely severe in view of the heavy burden borne by healthcare providers. He reportedly met with LDP Secretary General Nikai before speaking to the press to inform Nikai of his plan to maintain the nationwide state of emergency for the time being. The articles speculated that the state of emergency will probably be extended at least through May 31. Asahi projected that the prime minister may announce the extension on May 4.   

According to the articles, Shigeru Omi, the chairman of the GOJ blue ribbon commission on the pandemic made up of virologists and epidemiologists, told PM Abe yesterday that extra efforts need to be made to stem the new pathogen, thus recommending that the state of emergency be maintained beyond early May. A doctor on the same panel told Yomiuri on Thursday that one of the criteria for ending the emergency declaration is the number of cases per day, which he indicated should be less than 100 for the entire nation.

In a related article, Yomiuri highlighted remarks made yesterday by Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister Nishimura to National Governors’ Association Chairman Iizumi. The cabinet official in charge of the GOJ’s response to the coronavirus suggested that some prefectures designated as areas that warrant special attention may be removed from the list and other prefectures may be added. The governors’ group reportedly urged the GOJ to extend the state of emergency nationwide and amend the existing law on the coronavirus so as to penalize businesses for refusing to suspend their operations and patients for failing to cooperate with local governments’ efforts to conduct contact tracing. Asahi speculated that Okinawa may be added to the list of prefectures that warrant special attention because tourists from the mainland continue to travel there.

Abe decides to maintain state of emergency in response to pressure

Asahi wrote that in deciding to extend the nationwide state of emergency over the coronavirus pandemic, Prime Minister Abe apparently succumbed to growing pressure from prefectural governors and leading doctors and public health experts who have insisted on the continuation of the national campaign to reduce social contact by 80% to rein in the virus outbreak. According to the daily, PM Abe, Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga, and other senior administration officials had initially been hesitant about extending the state of emergency across the board on account of its adverse effects on the Japanese economy. They were also reportedly concerned that if the emergency declaration were extended, calls would continue to grow for the central government to compensate business owners for prolonged closures.      

COVID-19 epidemic curve begins to flatten in major prefectures

Asahi and Yomiuri wrote that as more than three weeks have elapsed since Prime Minister Abe declared a state of emergency over the coronavirus outbreak on April 7, the epidemic curve appears to have begun to flatten. The number of new cases has been declining overall for the past two weeks, especially in Tokyo, Osaka, and other urban prefectures. The papers wrote that an “explosive spike” in infections does not appear to have occurred. A total of 189 people tested positive for the virus yesterday across the nation, including 46 in Tokyo.

The papers pointed out, however, that some prefectures, such as Hokkaido, Ishikawa, and Toyama, have witnessed a surge in the number of new cases, pointing out that numerous “cluster infections” at hospitals and elderly care facilities have been reported there. A record high of 27 people tested positive for the disease in Sapporo yesterday, and 14 additional cases were reported in other parts of Hokkaido. The dailies added that the northernmost prefecture is currently experiencing a “second wave,” noting that although it successfully weathered a first wave in late March as a result of the swift implementation of its own state of emergency, new cases have been surging there partly because of people’s increased travel to the region from Tokyo, Osaka, and other metropolitan areas in early April.

Experts panel to urge maintaining vigilance for at least a year

Mainichi and Sankei front-paged articles saying that the GOJ’s taskforce on the coronavirus outbreak comprising epidemiologists and other public health professionals plans to release a set of recommendations today. The panel is expected to urge the central government to keep certain measures in place for at least a year based on the assessment that infections will continue to occur for a while. The taskforce is set to warn that if the present strict regulations on people’s movements are lifted, the epidemic curve will begin to swell again. The experts will reportedly underscore the importance of reducing social contact as much as possible given that hospital capacity is still overloaded. They will also call for a rapid expansion of PCR diagnostic testing and swift reconstruction of the healthcare system. 

Diet clears supplementary budget to combat COVID-19

All national papers highlighted the enactment on Thursday of the FY2020 supplementary budget worth 25.7 trillion yen ($240 billion) designed to combat the novel coronavirus, including funds for cash handouts of 100,000 yen for all residents. The dailies wrote that in putting together the stimulus package, the Abe administration heeded various requests from ruling and opposition parties for spending programs, such as emergency loans for small businesses, unemployment benefits for laid-off workers, and other subsidies to help alleviate the pandemic’s impact in view of the growing disapproval of the prime minister’s handling of the public health crisis.

Mainichi noted that only 727 billion yen ($6.8 billion), or a mere 3%, of the entire budget was allocated for the Health Ministry, claiming that with this “modest amount,” the ministry’s goal of boosting PCR tests and hospital capacity to treat COVID-19 patients will probably be difficult to achieve. Sankei projected that the pump-priming package may not be strong enough to jumpstart the Japanese economy, emphasizing that more PCR testing will be necessary to resume economic activities swiftly. Asahi and Yomiuri noted that calls are already emerging within both the ruling and opposition camps for the GOJ to draw up an additional spending package based on the view that it will probably take many months to bring the outbreak under control.

Over 600 people self-isolating at home in Tokyo       

Sankei reported on the disclosure by the Tokyo metropolitan government yesterday that a total of 635 COVID-19 patients were self-isolating at home as of April 28. Most of them were reportedly asymptomatic and many of them had opted to stay at home. Local public health centers are reportedly checking on their health condition daily over the phone.


Japanese, Chinese vice foreign ministers hold teleconference

Yomiuri reported that Vice Foreign Minister Akiba and his Chinese counterpart spoke by phone on Thursday to confirm continued mutual coordination to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. The two officials apparently exchanged views on Chinese leader Xi’s proposed visit to Japan later this year.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team