Morning Alert   -   Wednesday, May 13, 2020
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Morning news

NHK gave top coverage to a report that the MHLW approved on Tuesday an antigen test for COVID-19, saying that it is expected to help boost the total number of diagnostic tests because it is faster and simpler than PCR testing. NTV led with a report that Tokyo confirmed 28 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, quoting an expert as saying, however, that the figure is still not low enough to feel safe. TBS gave top play to a report that the governor of Osaka announced yesterday that Osaka will introduce a coronavirus tracking system by the end of this month. Fuji TV led with a report that the National Governors' Association expressed concern about people traveling across prefectural borders if the state of emergency is partially lifted tomorrow. TV Asahi also reported on the anticipated lifting of the state of emergency tomorrow.

Top stories in national dailies included a GOJ plan to lift its state of emergency declaration in 39 prefectures (Nikkei), a decline in the number of deaths from the new coronavirus in seven prefectures (Sankei), survey results showing that 90% of public junior, middle, and high schools in Japan are planning to shorten their summer breaks (Asahi), and Toyota’s forecast of an 80% drop in operating profit for FY2020 (Yomiuri), and the Justice Ministry’s failure to keep minutes of discussions on changing the prosecutors’ law (Mainichi).


Tokyo, Osaka, Hokkaido to continue to be designated as areas that warrant special attention

Nikkei led with a report saying that the GOJ is planning to lift the state of emergency tomorrow for Ibaraki, Aichi, Gifu, Kyoto, and Fukuoka prefectures, which are designated as areas that warrant special attention, and all 34 prefectures that are not on the special alert list, while continuing to designate Tokyo, Osaka, and Hokkaido as areas that warrant special attention. The paper wrote that the GOJ will make a final decision after holding meetings of a government panel of experts and an advisory committee on Thursday. The paper wrote that the GOJ is planning to continue to designate Tokyo, Osaka, and Hokkaido as areas that warrant special attention because although the number of new COVID-19 cases in Tokyo has been trending downward, Tokyo may face a shortage of hospital beds if cases begin to rise again because the number of people hospitalized is still high. There is also concern about a potential expansion of infections in Osaka, and a “second wave” of infections in Hokkaido that has not yet been brought under control.

The paper wrote that the experts’ panel is drafting criteria for ending the state of emergency that include a target of 0.5 or fewer total cases per 100,000 people over the preceding week, conditions in neighboring prefectures, and the percentage of positive tests. With regard to criteria for reimposing the state of emergency, the experts’ panel is reportedly considering such criteria as new cases exceed 5 per 100,000 people, the number of infections doubling in 10 or fewer days, and untraceable cases exceeding 30% of the total number of infections. Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister Nishimura told the press on Tuesday that even after the state of emergency is lifted people should refrain from traveling to high-alert prefectures and using facilities associated with community infection, such as nightclubs and gyms.

Meanwhile, Mainichi wrote that the GOJ is considering lifting the state of emergency for all 34 prefectures that are not designated as areas that warrant special attention as well as Ibaraki, Gifu, Aichi, and Fukuoka.

Tokyo to conduct 3,000 antibody tests monthly from June

Nikkei and Sankei wrote that Tokyo Governor Koike said on Tuesday that the Tokyo Metropolitan Government is planning to conduct 3,000 antibody tests for past coronavirus infection per month from June. The governor said that the tests will help assess the overall infection situation in Tokyo.


South Korea reiterates call for Japan to lift trade restrictions

Yomiuri and Asahi wrote that a senior official at South Korea’s Trade, Industry, and Energy Ministry issued a statement on Tuesday calling on Japan to lift its tightened trade restrictions against Seoul by saying there is no longer any problem with exports to South Korea because the reasons that Japan cited in imposing the export curbs have been addressed.

Japan raises travel alert for 13 countries over virus pandemic

All national dailies wrote that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday raised its travel alert for 13 countries, including Mexico, to Level 3, warning against any travel to these areas. The paper wrote that the GOJ will also impose an entry ban on travelers from these 13 nations in the near future.


RIMPAC exercise to be held in August off Hawaii

Sankei claimed in a front-page article that it learned from a source connected to U.S.-Japan relations on Tuesday that the major biennial Rim of the Pacific exercise will be held in August off Hawaii. The paper alleged that although the U.S. had intended to cancel the planned exercise in view of the coronavirus pandemic, the Japan strongly urged Washington to hold it in light of the Chinese military’s active moves. The paper wrote that the scale of the exercise will be reduced to two weeks from August 17 to 31 and will only involve maritime drills.

Touch-and-go exercise to begin on Ioto Island on May 14

NHK reported on the announcement by the Defense Ministry that F18 fighters and other carrier-based aircraft on the USS Ronald Reagan will carry out touch-and-go exercises on Ioto Island starting on May 14. The network said the exercise will be shorter than usual, adding that the move is aimed at swiftly achieving operational readiness while the USS Theodore Roosevelt has virtually suspended its operations due to an outbreak of COVID-19 on board.

DM Kono says soft seabed in Henoko at depth of 77 meters, no problem for landfill work

NHK reported that Defense Minister Kono disclosed at an Upper House foreign affairs and defense committee session yesterday that after conducting detailed analysis, his ministry has determined that the soft seabed in Henoko is at a maximum depth of 77 meters below the surface of the sea. The network said the MOD had been explaining that the seabed was about 70 meters below the surface and there was a layer of solid clay beneath it. Kono reportedly added: "Even under these conditions, if we carry out solid improvement work using a method with a successful track record, I am convinced that we can ensure the stability of the seawall and other areas."


Toyota forecasts 80% decline in annual operating profit

All national dailies reported on an announcement on Tuesday by Toyota Motor that it is facing an 80% drop in operating profit this year. Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota, said that the shock from the coronavirus pandemic is far greater than that faced after the global financial crisis in 2008 that was triggered by the collapse of Lehman Brothers.

Honda Motor announced on Tuesday that its group net profit dropped 25.3% and its operating profit fell 12.8% in the business year ending in March, but it could not release any earnings forecasts for the current business year.


60% of prefecture governors support starting school year in September

Nikkei wrote that in its survey of prefecture governors in Japan, about 60% expressed support for the idea of shifting the school year from April to September. According to the paper, supporters of the idea said the change would help Japan to promote globalization and that this is a good opportunity for the nation to align its educational system with the global standard. In a related story, Asahi wrote that an LDP working team on the matter is planning to present its recommendations to the government in late May or early June.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team