Morning Alert   -   Tuesday, May 12, 2020
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Morning news

NHK led with a report that a growing number of restaurants and drinking establishments in Tokyo are staying open until late at night despite the Tokyo government's request to shorten their business hours. NTV and TBS gave top play to reports that Tokyo confirmed 15 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, the lowest figure since Tokyo was placed under the state of emergency. The networks said, however, that the Monday figures are usually low, and Tokyo Governor Koike warned of a possible second wave. TV Asahi led with the finding that there were 111 cases of COVID-19 that had not been reported to the Tokyo government and 35 cases in Tokyo that had been reported multiple times, saying that the total number of cases in Tokyo has increased by 76 as a result. Fuji TV reported that the temperature in the Tokyo area exceeded 30 degrees Celsius on Monday.

Front-page items in national papers included Prime Minister Abe’s intention to enact during the ongoing Diet session a controversial bill aimed at extending the retirement age of public prosecutors, Japan’s heavy dependence on supplies of foreign medical equipment, the GOJ’s inclination to lift the state of emergency over the coronavirus pandemic for most prefectures on May 14, and growing moves among some prefectural governments to establish their own criteria for discontinuing requests for local businesses to suspend operations.


Minister Nishimura discusses criteria for ending state of emergency

Yomiuri took up remarks made to the press yesterday by Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister Nishimura, who said when deciding on whether to end the state of emergency over the coronavirus outbreak, the GOJ will take into account the number of new cases in previous weeks, the availability of hospital beds, ventilators and other healthcare items, and the status of PCR diagnostic testing and other monitoring mechanisms. Nishimura suggested that the state of emergency will probably be lifted soon for most of the 34 prefectures that are not designated as areas that warrant special attention.  

Sankei and Mainichi ran similar stories, with the former saying that the GOJ is set to end the state of emergency for all 34 prefectures, plus Ibaraki and Gifu, on May 14. Mainichi noted that restrictions on people’s movement between the 34 prefectures will probably be eased when the emergency declaration is lifted. However, the GOJ is likely to continue to request that large-scale events and gatherings be avoided in these prefectures at least for a while. 

Total of 111 cases not reported to Tokyo government

NHK reported that Tokyo Governor Koike disclosed in a YouTube video posted on Monday that 111 cases of COVID-19 had not been reported by public health centers to the Tokyo government. Koike reportedly said: "We established a center that manages patients' information from the onset of symptoms to the end of the treatment in order to closely examine past data. The center found that 111 people tested positive but the positive test results were not reported to the Tokyo government by public health centers, and 35 positive tests had been reported multiple times." Koike reportedly added that the Tokyo government will work closely with the central government and public health centers to compile information in order to deliver accurate information to residents. Commercial networks carried similar reports this morning, saying that the total number of cases in Tokyo has increased by 76 to 4,960.

Over 30 patients who had recovered from COVID-19 test positive again

Asahi front-paged a finding that at least 35 COVID-19 patients nationwide who had previously recovered from the coronavirus tested positive again. One patient reportedly tested positive almost a month after being declared free of the virus through PCR testing. According to the daily, 32 of the 35 “reactivated” patients had shown fever or other symptoms. The National Institute of Infectious Diseases are reportedly investigating the cause of their apparent relapses. Mainichi carried a similar story, saying it has learned of at least 37 cases of reactivation of the virus in 17 prefectures.

MHLW to approve PCR test kit that uses saliva samples

Mainichi wrote that the Health Ministry plans to approve later this month a PCR test to detect novel coronavirus infection using saliva, projecting that the move will lead to a rise in the number of PCR tests conducted.

Meanwhile, Yomiuri and Sankei highlighted press remarks by Tokyo Governor Koike yesterday. She reportedly suggested that her government will conduct COVID-19 antibody and antigen tests independent of those to be undertaken by the central government. She also disclosed that Tokyo will soon be able to secure some 3,300 hospital beds for COVID-19 patients.

Japan dependent on foreign medical equipment to combat coronavirus

Nikkei reported in its lead item that Japan’s medical sector is highly dependent on foreign equipment, as 90% of ventilators and 50% of active pharmaceutical ingredients are of foreign origin. A vast quantity of the masks, gowns, and other protective equipment used by local medical practitioners is imported from China. As many foreign governments have restricted exports of medical equipment amid the coronavirus pandemic, the daily said Japan’s heavy reliance on foreign supplies has revealed the vulnerability of its medical system. The GOJ is now reportedly joining hands with some 400 Japanese firms to increase the domestic production of medical equipment to better prepare for contagious diseases in the future.


Foreign ministers of Japan, U.S, and five other nations hold videoconference on pandemic

Asahi and Yomiuri reported that the foreign ministers of Japan, the U.S., South Korea, Australia, and three other nations convened a videoconference on Monday on the COVID-19 outbreak. The participants reportedly agreed to exchange views and coordinate closely to stem the spread of the virus. Foreign Minister Motegi reportedly underscored the importance of launching a study into the global community’s response to the pandemic “from the standpoint of preventing the outbreak of infectious diseases.” He also called for increased sharing of relevant data and medical insights in a swifter and more transparent manner.      

China looking to ease restrictions on foreign visitors

Nikkei claimed in a report from Beijing that the Chinese government has sounded out Japan on the idea of relaxing its current ban on entry and allowing the entry of Japanese visitors who have received “COVID-19-free” certificates from the Japanese government. According to the daily, beginning in early May, Beijing allows the entry of South Korean nationals traveling on business on the condition that they test negative for the novel coronavirus within 72 hours before their departure to China. While asserting that the Chinese government has proposed that Tokyo adopt a similar “fast-track” approach, the daily speculated the GOJ is hesitant about the idea on the grounds that easing its advisory for travel to China is premature given that Japan is still concentrating on curbing infection at home. The availability of PCR tests is also extremely limited for people who are asymptomatic. The daily added that some foreign countries have begun easing their entry bans, noting that Turkish Airlines is considering resuming international flights connecting local cities with Haneda and other 21 foreign airports. 


Japanese displeased with government support for businesses amid pandemic

Nikkei reported on the results of a survey conducted in Japan and four other foreign nations by an international business consultancy that showed only 13% of Japanese respondents felt that their government’s support for local businesses amid the coronavirus pandemic was sufficient. The corresponding figures for the UK, Germany, and the U.S. were 65%, 51%, and 44%, respectively. The pollster reportedly explained that Japanese were the most critical by far of their government’s support for companies hit hard by the virus probably because the application processes for emergency loans and other benefits are too cumbersome and that it takes many weeks to actually receive such financial relief.


U.S. military provides Futenma soil samples to Okinawa authorities

Asahi reported that in response to repeated requests from the Okinawa prefectural and Ginowan municipal governments, U.S. military authorities at MCAS Futenma provided samples on Monday of soil collected at nine locations on the base, including near the hangar where the spillage of foam extinguisher containing PFOS occurred about a month ago. The samples reportedly include soil that the U.S. military removed from the vicinity in late April due to possible contamination. The U.S. military, GOJ, and Okinawa authorities will each reportedly analyze the samples to check for contamination.

Japan wary of China’s renewed maritime push

Mainichi reported that the Chinese are actively conducting naval operations in the South and East China Seas lately apparently by capitalizing on regional countries’ preoccupation with the coronavirus outbreak. As Japan is increasingly alarmed by China’s renewed maritime push in the vicinity of the Senkakus and Okinawa, Defense Minister Kono has reportedly held a series of teleconferences with his regional counterparts, including those from the U.S., Australia, and India in the past few weeks. Kono urged them to maintain and strengthen coordination to preserve peace and order in East Asia.

In a related development, all national papers wrote that the Chinese government lodged a protest with the GOJ on Monday over a recent “illegal fishing” incident involving a Japanese trawler in waters near the Senkakus. The papers wrote that the GOJ had filed a protest with the Chinese government over the incident that occurred on Saturday, claiming that Chinese coast guard boats chased a Japanese fishing boat after intruding into the nation’s territorial waters around the outcrops.


NASA official says Japanese astronaut to travel to International Space Station

Sankei front-paged an interview with Embassy NASA Attaché Garvey McIntosh in which he reportedly noted that Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi will be the only non-American to fly on a U.S.-launched SpaceX Dragon rocket to the International Space Station later this year. According to the U.S. official, a Japanese astronaut may also be able to explore the moon as Japan is a close partner of NASA’s Artemis program that aims to send a manned mission to the Moon by 2024.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team