Morning Alert   -   Thursday, May 21, 2020
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Morning news

NHK and Fuji TV gave top coverage to reports that the GOJ has decided to lift the state of emergency for Osaka, Kyoto, and Hyogo later today, while keeping it in place for Hokkaido, Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama, and Chiba for the time being. NTV led with a report that Tokyo confirmed five new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, bringing the total to 5,075. TBS and TV Asahi focused on a tabloid allegation that the Tokyo High Public Prosecutors Office chief Hiromu Kurokawa played mahjong for money with three journalists on two occasions in early May despite the state of emergency over the coronavirus.

Major front-page stories in national papers include the Japan High School Baseball Federation’s decision to cancel this summer’s national tournament due to the coronavirus pandemic, growing calls from the ruling and opposition camps for Tokyo High Public Prosecutors Office chief Kurokawa to step down following the tabloid report that he played mahjong for money amid the coronavirus situation, and the first-ever operation in Japan last October to inject liver tissue created from embryonic stem cells into a newborn suffering from a serious hereditary disease.


State of emergency to be lifted for Kansai region today

According to all national dailies, the GOJ is expected to lift the state of emergency over the coronavirus for Osaka, Kyoto, and Hyogo Prefectures today, while maintaining it for Hokkaido as well as Tokyo and its three neighboring prefectures for the time being. The number of new patients in the three prefectures of the Kansai region over the last week was below the government’s benchmark of 0.5 per 100,000 people.

Mainichi noted that although the number of new cases in Tokyo has declined rapidly for the past few days apparently as a result of people’s efforts to avoid going out during the Golden Week holidays two weeks ago, the GOJ is still cautious about ending the emergency for the Tokyo metropolitan area out of fear that cases will spike again in the next couple of days as more people have been out and about in the past week or so. Asahi wrote that while the virus appears to have been contained in Chiba and Saitama, the GOJ will keep these prefectures under a state of emergency on account of their “regional integration” with Tokyo and Kanagawa. The GOJ is reportedly likely to decide a week from now whether to maintain the state of emergency for the Tokyo region and Hokkaido.

Tokyo confirms additional miscalculations in numbers of new COVID-19 cases

NHK reported online that the numbers of new cases have not been properly reported to the Tokyo government by public health centers on multiple occasions, saying that the total number of cases in Tokyo is expected to increase by about 40 as a result. The network said this is the second time for Tokyo to disclose such miscalculations of the numbers of COVID-19 cases. According to the network, the miscalculations will not affect the government's decision on whether to lift the state of emergency because the data in question was from the beginning of the month or earlier.

More PCR test centers set up across Japan

Nikkei front-paged a story on accelerated moves by a number of prefectural and municipal governments nationwide to launch their own facilities for conducting PCR diagnostic testing for COVID-19, saying that a total of 110 testing centers have been established in the past month, including 29 in Tokyo and 16 in Kanagawa. Some local governments plan to set up makeshift hospitals designed to exclusively treat coronavirus patients with moderate or serious symptoms in order to prepare for a “second wave” of infection in the autumn or later. While noting that demand for PCR testing appears to have been declining gradually, the daily said increasing these facilities to prepare for a future outbreak is not easy given the shortage of infection disease experts and lab technicians. Many healthcare practitioners are reportedly hesitant to work at such hospitals out of fear of discrimination against people who may have been exposed to the virus.

People steer clear of hotels, restaurants even after state of emergency lifted

Nikkei wrote that while many commercial outlets have reopened in the 39 prefectures for which the COVID-19 state of emergency was lifted a week ago, consumers are reluctant to dine out, go shopping, or stay at hotels out of concern about contracting the virus. Various data suggests that the number of visitors to local commercial and entertainment districts in the past week remained largely the same as the weeks when the state of emergency was still in place. Some experts forecast it may take at least a few years to revive local businesses, adding that the tourism and hotel industries in rural prefectures will continue to be hit hard as long as people from the Tokyo, Osaka, and other metropolitan areas are strongly advised not to travel to the countryside.


President Trump says G7 summit may be held at Camp David

Yomiuri took up a tweet posted by President Trump on Wednesday in which he said that this year’s G7 summit may be held at Camp David. While quoting the President as saying, “I am considering rescheduling the G7, on the same or similar date, in Washington, DC, at the legendary Camp David,” the daily speculated that the U.S. leader has revived the idea of holding an in-person event instead of a videoconference in an effort to signal that he is prevailing over the coronavirus outbreak at home.

ROK bill on compensation for forced laborers scrapped

Nikkei reported from Seoul that legislation co-sponsored by National Assembly Speaker Moon and 13 other politicians for offering compensation to former requisitioned workers through soliciting donations from Japanese and local companies was, in effect, scrapped since the final parliamentary session for incumbent lawmakers ended yesterday. Although the bill was submitted to the assembly last December, it was never deliberated as there was strong opposition from the victims and their supporters. The paper projected that it is unlikely to be submitted again given that 9 out of the 14 legislators who sponsored it are expected to retire.   

Meanwhile, all national dailies separately reported from Seoul that on Wednesday local prosecutors raided the office of a civic group supporting former comfort women on suspicion of embezzlement and breach of trust. One of the elderly victims openly complained that donations for the comfort women sent to the group have been misused by its representatives. 


Two Americans arrested for helping Carlos Ghosn escape from Japan

All national dailies except Nikkei reported briefly that U.S. authorities arrested on Wednesday two Americans wanted in Japan on charges of assisting former Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn in fleeing Japan last December. Former U.S. Army Special Forces member Michael Taylor and his son Peter were apprehended at the request of the Japanese government, which had issued arrest warrants for both men along with a third in January in connection with facilitating the escape. The Taylors were scheduled to appear before a federal judge via videoconference on Wednesday afternoon. Sankei predicted that the GOJ is likely to ask the U.S. Department of Justice to extradite the two suspects. 


Launch of SDF space mission squadron to enhance space collaboration with U.S.

Asahi ran a prominent inside-page article on the recent establishment by the ASDF of a 20-member space domain mission unit, spotlighting a video message celebrating the launch posted on Twitter by U.S. Space Command Commander Raymond. While explaining that the squadron’s primary mission will initially be “space situational awareness” – monitoring the some 19,000 items of space debris in collaboration with the U.S. military – the daily suspected that Japan may be pressed by the U.S. to cooperate on its missile defense system in outer space, as China and Russia are moving rapidly to take control of space by developing killer satellites and hypersonic weapons. A GOJ source was quoted as saying: “Japan, including the U.S. bases in its territory, is facing the threat of Chinese and Russian hypersonic weapons. It is important for the U.S. and Japan to deal with such threats jointly by utilizing space.”


Number of foreign visitors to Japan plummeted to record low last month

All national dailies took up data released yesterday by the Japan Tourism Agency showing that only 2,900 foreign travelers visited Japan in April, down 99.9% from a year earlier, amid the global coronavirus pandemic. This was the first time that the monthly figure dropped below the 10,000 mark since 1964, when the GOJ began compiling such statistics. While the GOJ had hoped to attract 40 million foreign travelers this year, only 3.94 million people visited Japan in the first four months.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team