Morning Alert   -   Wednesday, May 20, 2020
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Morning news

Most networks and national dailies gave top coverage to reports that the GOJ will most likely lift the state of emergency for Osaka, Kyoto, and Hyogo tomorrow as the number of new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people over the preceding week is below the government target in the three prefectures. NTV led with a report that Tokyo confirmed 5 new cases on Tuesday.

Other front-page items in national papers included the apparent leakage of data on a missile following a cyberattack on Mitsubishi Electric, and a GOJ plan to infuse 50 billion yen ($464 million) worth of capital into some 500 small and medium-sized firms to help them weather the pandemic. 


State of emergency likely to be lifted for Kansai region

All national dailies except Asahi noted that the GOJ will probably lift the state of emergency over the coronavirus for Osaka, Hyogo, and Kyoto tomorrow, quoting Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister Nishimura as saying at the Diet yesterday that the three prefectures have met one of the key criteria for discontinuing the emergency – the seven-day rolling average for new cases in the preceding week. Nishimura, who oversees the GOJ’s coronavirus response, said regarding Osaka: “Although the number of patients in serious condition has not yet begun dropping, we have enough hospital beds available.” Osaka Governor Yoshimura told the press on Tuesday that the state of emergency should be lifted for Osaka and its two neighboring prefectures since they have already cleared most of the benchmarks.

Over 17,000 hospital beds secured nationwide

Nikkei and Yomiuri took up the Health Ministry’s announcement on Tuesday that prefectural governments across the country had secured a total of 17,290 hospital beds to accommodate COVID-19 patients as of May 15, up almost 940 from a week ago. The overall figure includes 2,356 beds for those in serious condition. As of May 13, a total of 3,342 people were hospitalized nationwide, including 252 patients with serious symptoms. Nearly 650 virus carriers were self-isolating at home while some 610 patients with minor symptoms were staying at hotels secured by local governments. The ministry reportedly concluded that sufficient hospital beds have been secured. “Bed capacity is not strained,” one ministry official reportedly said.

Abe says telemedicine should continue indefinitely

Yomiuri reported that Prime Minister Abe instructed relevant cabinet ministers yesterday to make telemedicine a permanent feature of the nation’s medical system. Under the present arrangement, videoconferencing between doctors and patients will only be available until the coronavirus situation is brought under control. Asahi ran a similar story, adding that telemedicine will continue to be available until the end of the year irrespective of the coronavirus situation.

Doctors’ group warns against hasty approval of Avigan for COVID-19 treatment

Tuesday evening’s Mainichi reported that a Japan Medical Association (JMA) panel released a statement earlier in the day calling for the Health Ministry to move very carefully when approving new drugs for the novel coronavirus. With Prime Minister Abe’s eagerness to use the flu drug Avigan to treat COVID-19 apparently in mind, the group recommended against the hasty approval of new medicines. “Approval that is not based on science could end up undermining public health,” the statement read, underscoring that an emergency must not be used to justify circumvention of requirements for clinical studies.


Health minister indicates support for Taiwan’s participation in WHO

Yomiuri and Sankei wrote that Health Minister Kato delivered a speech via video at the World Health Assembly on Tuesday and made clear Japan’s support for Taiwan’s participation in the confab as an observer by saying: “We need to learn from the accomplishments of such regions as Taiwan on the public health front.” He also called for a “fair, independent, and comprehensive evaluation” of the global health watchdog’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the origin of the virus, and the routes of infection.

Yomiuri wrote that while Japan took a concerted line with the U.S. in demanding a probe into the WHO’s handling of the pandemic, Minister Kato carefully avoided criticizing China in the speech because the Abe administration is hoping to arrange a trip to Japan by Chinese leader Xi later this year. An unnamed senior MOFA official reportedly said: “It will be difficult to conduct an effective examination if we upset the Chinese.” The daily added that the Chinese government filed a protest over Foreign Minister Motegi’s comment at the Diet last week in reference to Taiwan’s possible participation in the World Health Assembly. Motegi had said: “Frankly speaking, China poses a problem.” 


Defense chiefs of Japan, U.S., ROK to hold talks online

Yomiuri reported that Defense Minister Kono told the press yesterday that he is likely to hold a videoconference with his U.S. and South Korean counterparts no later than June to discuss such issues as China’s maritime push. He was quoted as saying: “Certain countries are trying to alter the status quo unilaterally at a time when the international community is busy dealing with an infectious disease.”  

In a related development, NHK reported that Kono held teleconferences with his counterparts in New Zealand, Singapore, and Indonesia on Tuesday and expressed strong opposition to any attempt to unilaterally change the status quo or increase tensions, apparently with China's stepping up its activities in the East and South China Seas in mind. The network said the defense chiefs also agreed to share information and expertise in curbing the spread of the new coronavirus. The network noted that this was the first time for Kono to hold talks with New Zealand Defense Minister Mark via teleconference over the Internet, adding that the MOD is planning to consider ways to increase confidentiality as the number of meetings held via teleconference is expected to rise in the future.

U.S. delivery of early warning planes for SDF delayed

Mainichi reported that the ASDF’s plan to deploy four E-2D airborne early warning aircraft by FY2018 is delayed because Northrop Grumman has run into difficulty refitting existing planes to accommodate Japan’s request for extending the cruising time from the original six hours to eight hours. The U.S. defense contractor has reportedly told the Defense Ministry recently that two more years will be necessary to equip the aircraft with additional fuel tanks for delivery to Japan. The daily said one existing E-2D was delivered last March for deployment in Misawa and two more will be delivered later this year for deployment in Okinawa. These planes will reportedly be replaced after those with additional fuel tanks are successfully assembled.    

Data on state-of-the-art missile apparently leaked as a result of cyberattack

Asahi gave top play to Mitsubishi Electric’s assessment that data on a hypersonic cruise missile currently under development was probably leaked due to a cyberattack that took place last June. The data included specifications for the missile that the Defense Ministry drafted, such as its propulsion system, flight range, and heat resistance properties. The company had reportedly been given the data when it sought to win a contract to produce a prototype of the missile, although another unspecified defense contractor was awarded the contract in the end. The ministry has launched an investigation into the apparent leakage of the data, which is reportedly not designated as “special secrets’ under the special secrets protection law. The daily suspected that two Chinese hacker groups staged the online attack to steal industrial secrets. 

U.S. welcomes Japan’s launch of space domain mission unit

Tuesday evening’s Mainichi highlighted a video message posted on Twitter by U.S. Space Command Commander Raymond on the establishment of the ASDF’s new space domain mission unit. The general reportedly said: “The U.S.-Japan alliance in air, sea, and land has been strong for 60 years. We will continue that partnership and interoperability into the space domain.”

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team