Morning Alert   -   Friday, May 22, 2020
The following information reflects the reporting of the cited news media and does not reflect the opinions of the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo. Japan Media Highlights is intended for USG use only and should not be forwarded. Visit the website here. For more information, contact TokyoMATT@state.gov.


Morning news

All networks and Yomiuri and Nikkei gave top play to reports that the GOJ lifted the state of emergency for Osaka, Kyoto, and Hyogo yesterday. The government will reportedly decide whether to end the state of emergency in Hokkaido, Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba, and Saitama as early as May 25. While noting that the number of new cases per 100,000 people over the preceding week in Tokyo was below the government target of 0.5 or lower for the first time yesterday, NHK said the infection routes for 9 of the 11 new cases in Tokyo are unknown. The network added that the number of new cases per 100,000 people in Kanagawa over the preceding week was alarmingly high at 0.87 on Thursday, quoting Shigeru Omi, the chairman of the government advisory committee on COVID-19, as saying that Kanagawa is becoming the focal point in deciding whether to lift the state of emergency.

Asahi, Mainichi, and Sankei led with reports on Tokyo High Public Prosecutors Office chief Kurokawa’s decision to step down following an allegation that he played mahjong with journalists in early May despite the state of emergency over the coronavirus.


GOJ lifts state of emergency for Kansai region

All national dailies wrote that the GOJ lifted on Thursday the state of emergency for Osaka, Kyoto, and Hyogo, as the spread of the novel coronavirus has slowed enough to justify the gradual easing of curbs on economic activity in the Kansai region. The rate of new cases per 100,000 people in the three prefectures cleared the government-set criterion of less than 0.5 in the preceding week, with Osaka marking 0.17 and both Kyoto and Hyogo marking 0.04 on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Abe told the press that as the number of new infections is steadily declining and the strain on the medical system is easing in the five prefectures still under the state of emergency, his administration will ask experts as early as next Monday to evaluate the situations there to see whether it will be possible to lift the declaration. Noting that Tokyo confirmed 11 new cases on Thursday, marking 0.42 per 100,000 people in the preceding week, the paper speculated that the state of emergency could be lifted in the Tokyo metropolitan area as early as next week if this level is maintained in the region over the weekend.

Economic Revitalization Minister Nishimura, who is in charge of emergency response, said at a Lower House Steering Committee meeting on Thursday that the GOJ will make a comprehensive decision by monitoring such metrics as the speed of new cases doubling and the rate of patients with unknown infection routes, while stressing that it is important to prepare for a second wave of infection.

Japan considers easing entry restrictions on foreign travelers in three stages

Nikkei wrote that the GOJ will make preparations for easing entry restrictions on foreign visitors in a three-stage process, with business travelers and researchers being the first to get the green light followed by international students and tourists. The paper speculated that the GOJ is hoping to revitalize the economy by gradually easing entry restrictions while keeping a close eye on the infection situations at home and abroad. The paper speculated that the government is preparing to ease the entry restrictions for business travelers in an effort to kickstart the economy and for international students in order to secure enough workers at convenience stores and other businesses in the country’s understaffed service sector. While foreign tourists would help to boost consumption, they will be the last group to be allowed to enter due to the risk of a second wave of infection. The paper speculated that the GOJ is considering Vietnam, Taiwan, and parts of Europe that have had few infections and have strong economic ties with Japan as candidates for lifting the entry restrictions at an early date.

Tokyo again miscalculates number of new coronavirus cases

All national dailies wrote that the Tokyo Metropolitan Government announced on Thursday that it has found an error in its calculation of the number of new coronavirus infections in the prefecture in the period between March 26 and May 3. The Tokyo government said that it missed a total of 58 new cases, but this included 11 patients who either tested negative for the virus later or were counted twice. As a result, 47 cases were added to the Tokyo tally, bringing the total to 5,133. This was the second time for Tokyo to announce a miscalculation. 

Researchers to study whether genetic factors are behind fewer deaths per capita in Japan

Yomiuri wrote that eight universities and research institutes established on Thursday a joint taskforce to study genetic factors related to infection with the coronavirus in the view that the number of deaths caused by the coronavirus per capita is much lower in Japan than in the United States and Europe. According to the paper, the taskforce will collect the blood of 600 coronavirus patients from about 40 hospitals to conduct genomic analysis with the goal of completing their study by around September.


GOJ mulls Abe’s participation in possible G7 summit at Camp David

Mainichi wrote that in response to President Trump’s expression of desire to hold this year’s G7 summit at Camp David in June, the GOJ has begun preparations for Prime Minister Abe to attend the meeting. The paper said the GOJ is perplexed by the President’s abrupt change of plans amid the global coronavirus pandemic. Asahi wrote that Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga commented on President Trump’s tweet on Wednesday suggesting the possibility of holding a G7 summit at Camp David in June by reportedly telling the press on Thursday that the GOJ is studying the possibility of Abe attending it. The paper wrote that the President’s message took the GOJ by surprise. The paper quoted Suga as also telling reporters that the remarks may represent the President’s desire to normalize the world economy quickly. The paper also quoted an official close to Prime Minister Abe as saying that Japan has no option other than to participate in the G7 meeting if it is held there.

Japan’s defense white paper warns of China’s attempts to increase influence

All national dailies reported on the draft outline of Japan’s annual defense white paper to be released by the Ministry of Defense in the summer. Yomiuri wrote that in a section assessing the impact of the new coronavirus, the document says that China is seeking to establish an order that is advantageous to it and expand its influence in the world and the region by providing medical equipment to nations in need and that Japan will closely watch such attempts with grave concern as a security issue. The draft white paper also says China is apparently conducting campaigns to expand its influence, including dissemination of false information, by capitalizing on social confusion over the new coronavirus outbreak, and criticized China’s continued attempts to unilaterally change the status quo regarding the Senkaku Islands. The document describes the DPRK as posing a “serious and imminent threat,” using the same language as last year.

South Korea arrests Japanese national who refused to quarantine

NHK reported online this morning that the South Korean police arrested a Japanese man in his 20s on Thursday for refusing to comply with a requirement to quarantine after he entered South Korea on April 2. According to the network, although South Korea mandates all foreigners who enter the country to be placed under a two-week quarantine in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the man did not follow the order and went out to eat eight times. The Japanese Embassy in Seoul reportedly confirmed the arrest and is communicating with the South Korean side to obtain more information.


Tokyo prosecutors to request extradition of two Americans who helped Ghosn escape

Nikkei wrote that following the arrest on Wednesday by U.S. judicial authorities of two Americans who allegedly assisted former Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn in fleeing Japan to Lebanon, the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office began on Thursday preparations for making an official request to the United States to transfer their custody to Japan. Asahi speculated that the GOJ is planning to make an official request for extradition within 45 days, adding that the U.S. government will make a final decision on whether to hand over their custody based on a U.S.-Japan extradition treaty after the completion of judiciary proceedings at a U.S. court. Mainichi wrote that although the Tokyo prosecutors expect that U.S. judicial authorities will hand over the custody of the two suspects to Japan if the court approves the extradition, it could take more than one year.

IOC chief says Tokyo Games to be canceled if not held in 2021

Asahi, Mainichi, and Sankei wrote that International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said during an interview with the BBC on Wednesday that the rescheduled Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games will have to be canceled if they cannot be held next summer. The papers wrote that Bach said Prime Minister Abe told him that next summer is the last option for Japan. However, Tokyo Olympics Organizing Committee Secretary-General Muto declined to comment on the remarks, telling reporters online that he has no direct knowledge of what Bach said. Concerning Bach’s comment on Abe’s remark, Muto said he does not recall the premier using such a phrase in his teleconference with Bach in March 24.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team