Morning Alert   -   Tuesday, May 26, 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 national dailies and most TV networks gave extensive coverage to reports on Prime Minister Abe’s announcement of the lifting of the state of emergency over the coronavirus outbreak in the five prefectures of Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba, Saitama, and Hokkaido. TBS led with a report on various efforts being made by business operators to prevent the "Three Cs" – closed spaces, crowded places and close-contact settings – as they resume operations and welcome customers into their establishments following the lifting of the state of emergency nationwide. 


COVID-19 state of emergency lifted nationwide

The Tuesday editions of all national dailies reported extensively on Prime Minister Abe’s announcement last night on the immediate lifting of the state of emergency over the coronavirus outbreak for the Tokyo metropolitan area and Hokkaido. He expressed gratitude for the people’s efforts to reduce contact with others by saying: “We were able to nearly bring the outbreak under control in about a month and half only without a mandatory lockdown. We indeed demonstrated a Japanese model.” He stressed that the GOJ will no longer call for an 80% reduction of social contact, noting that the GOJ will ease its requests for suspension of business operations and other restrictions in a phased manner while assessing the infection situation every three weeks. Travel across prefectures and professional sporting events will be allowed nationwide starting on June 19. Sightseeing trips will also be permitted starting in August. According to the papers, most public and private schools in Tokyo and its three neighboring prefectures and Hokkaido will reopen on June 1.

However, the premier cautioned against a possible resurgence of COVID-19, suggesting that he will not hesitate to declare a state of emergency again in the event of a spike in infections. Meanwhile, the GOJ decided to extend the ongoing entry ban on travelers from many foreign countries by one month through June 30.

Kantei overruled public health experts’ concerns in lifting state of emergency

All national dailies wrote that Prime Minister Abe elected to end the state of emergency for the Tokyo metropolitan area even though it was scheduled to last through the end of May in view of rapid economic deceleration and mounting public criticism of his measures to deal with the pandemic, such as the provision of “Abenomasks” and cash handout program. Although the rate of new cases in Hokkaido and Kanagawa did not clear the government-set criterion of less than 0.5 per 100,000 people in the preceding week, Abe decided to lift the emergency based on the assessment that hospital capacity in those prefectures is not overwhelmed. He stressed that the number of new cases has dropped steadily and fewer than 2,000 people are currently hospitalized nationwide, down substantially from nearly 10,000 patients about a month ago.

The premier reportedly decided to lift the state of emergency sooner rather than later in the hope of easing public discontent. While quoting Abe as telling the press yesterday: “The country needs to change its approach from not holding events to figuring out how to hold events while reducing the risk of infection,” Mainichi expressed the view that this remark reflects his policy of prioritizing economic recovery over infectious disease control. Yomiuri projected that the administration will be criticized heavily if another outbreak occurs in the near future. Asahi said some epidemiologists on the GOJ’s coronavirus taskforce were displeased with the decision to lift the emergency at this stage, quoting one of them as saying: “The decision was made by politicians, not experts.” Nikkei wrote that Abe had been extremely keen to swiftly lift the emergency for the Tokyo metropolitan area following the finding on May 18 that Japan’s GDP shrank by 3.4% in the first quarter of this year. Sankei opined that rapidly expanding the nation’s PCR diagnostic testing capacity will be indispensable for striking a balance between full-fledged business activities and infectious disease control.

Abe pledged to buy U.S. ventilators in teleconference with President Trump in early May

Tuesday’s Asahi asserted that Prime Minister Abe agreed during a teleconference with President Trump on May 8 to purchase U.S. ventilators in response to an earlier proposal by the U.S. government. According to several GOJ sources, Washington asked Tokyo in early May whether it would be interested in buying “excess” ventilators produced by U.S. manufacturers. While the GOJ initially turned down the offer on the grounds that Japan has a sufficient supply of ventilators, the Kantei later reportedly decided to purchase them to prepare for a possible “second wave” of infections. Arrangements are reportedly underway to purchase some 1,000 American ventilators, with one GOJ source reportedly saying: “It’s better to have additional supplies…. They are much cheaper than Japanese ventilators.” President Trump was reportedly very pleased with the premier’s pledge.

GOJ raises travel advisory for 11 countries

The Saturday editions of Asahi and Nikkei reported that Foreign Minister Motegi announced on Friday that Japan has raised its COVID-19 travel advisory to Level 3, under which any travel is discouraged, for 11 countries: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Argentina, El Salvador, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Ghana, Guinea, and South Africa.

The papers said Motegi also told the press that Japan’s entry restrictions for travelers from nations and regions around the world that were scheduled to expire on May 31 will be extended by about a month. According to Nikkei, the GOJ will maintain the current measures of suspending already-issued visas or freezing visa waivers and will continue to ask all travelers who stayed in these nations within two weeks of their entry to Japan, including Japanese nationals, to self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. The foreign minister also reportedly disclosed that the GOJ is considering relaxing entry restrictions in three stages after the infection situation in Japan is brought under control, hinting that entry restrictions will be lifted for business travelers and international students first.

GOJ to give consideration to foreign residents unable to reenter Japan

Saturday’s Mainichi reported that Foreign Minister Motegi said at a Lower House Foreign Affairs Committee session on Friday that many foreign residents in Japan who temporarily returned to their home countries amid the new coronavirus pandemic have been unable to reenter Japan. Motegi reportedly added: “We are planning to permit the reentry of those who require humanitarian consideration.” The paper wrote that while Japan allows the reentry of special permanent residents, most of whom are from South and North Korea, foreign spouses of Japanese nationals, permanent residents and their spouses, and long-term residents have not been allowed to reenter in principle unless they have special circumstances.

GOJ to strengthen assistance for domestic firms developing COVID-19 vaccines

Monday’s Yomiuri reported that Health Minister Kato said on an NHK program on Sunday that the GOJ will reinforce support for Japanese companies that are developing vaccines for COVID-19. The paper said related funding will be allocated in the FY2020 second supplementary budget. Kato reportedly said: “There is a global competition underway to develop vaccines. We will firmly support vaccine development in Japan.” He reportedly pointed out that it will be too late to set up production lines after the vaccine development is complete, and said the GOJ plans to assist companies in preparing their production systems in parallel with supporting the research and development of vaccines. The paper noted that the U.S. and China have already begun clinical trials of COVID-19 vaccines.

In a related development, today’s Nikkei wrote that an Osaka-based pharmaceutical venture plans to conduct clinical trials of its COVID-19 vaccine in July in the hope of obtaining the Health Ministry’s approval by the end of this year. The company reportedly plans to secure some 2 billion yen ($18.6 million) in subsides from a GOJ-affiliated research foundation.

Avigan unlikely to be approved this month

Yomiuri and Sankei reported on Tuesday that the Health Ministry has decided to give up on its initial plan to approve the use of the flu drug Avigan for coronavirus treatment by the end of this month since its manufacturer has not yet filed an application.

Tokyo’s excess deaths may be far higher than COVID-19 count

Nikkei reported on Monday that Tokyo may have suffered more than 200 excess fatalities from pneumonia and other causes early in the COVID-19 outbreak, possibly dwarfing the period’s official coronavirus death count of 16. The paper said even more deaths could have been undercounted in April, the figures for which will not be released until next month. According to the daily, the National Institute of Infectious Diseases tracks fatalities from flu-like illnesses by collecting data from public health departments around the country. The tallies include those who died from pneumonia. Excess fatalities are calculated by comparing these figures against baselines derived from past data. The newest numbers show 50 to 60 excess deaths a week for the five weeks starting Feb. 17, adding up to more than 200 more fatalities than usual.

PM Abe works for 120 consecutive days

Nikkei reported on Monday that as of May 24, Prime Minister Abe had been working without a break for 120 consecutive days, the longest period since the launch of the current Abe administration in 2012. According to the paper, the premier has been holding meetings with cabinet ministers on weekends and holidays due to the prolonged coronavirus outbreak.


Japan’s COVID-19 economic stimulus to amount to over 200 trillion yen

All national dailies reported today that Prime Minister Abe disclosed yesterday that when compiling a second supplementary budget in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the GOJ is likely to spend over 100 trillion yen ($928 billion) to boost the economy. “I am determined to defend the Japanese economy from a once-in-a-century crisis with the world’s largest stimulus package at an unprecedented amount equivalent to 40% of the GDP,” said the prime minister. “We will infuse an overwhelming amount of capital” into the economy to help shore up businesses hit hard by rapid deceleration. Businesses will be provided with subsidies for rent and healthcare workers who have treated coronavirus patients will be given cash handouts of as much as 200,000 yen ($1,860) per person. Funding will also be allocated for boosting hospital capacity in preparation for a “second wave” of infections. As the GOJ’s first stimulus package was worth over 117 trillion yen ($1.09 trillion), the papers said the total amount committed by the GOJ to shore up the economy will amount to more than 200 trillion yen ($1.86 trillion).  

More than 10,000 people lost jobs due to coronavirus

Saturday’s Asahi reported on that the MHLW disclosed on Friday that more than 10,000 people in Japan were either laid off or expected to be laid off or had their contracts discontinued due to the new coronavirus. The paper said the number rose by 7,000 in May, saying that the employment situation may be rapidly worsening. According to the daily, while the number of people who lost their jobs was 3,771 at the end of April, it has been increasing by 3,000 per week since May 7 and was 10,835 as of May 21.

Nissan to cut production capacity worldwide without shutting down domestic plants

Asahi reported on Saturday that Nissan Motor has decided to reduce the production capacity of its factories around the world from the current 7 million to 5.4 million units annually by the end of FY2022. The paper said the automaker will work more closely with Renault and Mitsubishi Motor to improve factory utilization rates in an effort to reduce costs. Meanwhile, the daily said the reduction will be mainly focused on Europe, adding that the automaker is not planning to close plants or reduce production lines in Japan, China, or the U.S. In a related story, Sankei reported that Nissan is looking to cut over 20,000 jobs mainly in Europe and emerging nations as part of a restructuring plan due to slumping sales amid the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 60% of workers hope to continue teleworking

The Monday edition of Sankei reported that a survey conducted by the Japan Productivity Center on 1,100 people aged 20 years or older in mid-May found that more than 60% of those who shifted to teleworking to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 are hoping to continue teleworking even after the virus is brought under control. Nearly 60% also said they are satisfied with their employers’ telework systems. The paper wrote that the Japanese working style of “reporting to the workplace every weekday” may undergo a significant shift.


PM Abe to attend in-person G7 Summit in U.S. if held

Sunday’s Nikkei reported that the GOJ has conveyed to the U.S. side that Prime Minister Abe will participate in the in-person G7 Summit that the U.S. is hoping to hold in a Washington suburb in June. The paper wrote that if Abe visits the U.S. for the G7 summit, it will be his first overseas trip since he traveled to the Middle East in mid-January. According to Tuesday’s Nikkei, Abe told the press yesterday: “If circumstances allow, I would like to attend.” He added that at the upcoming G7 meeting, he will propose the launch of an international “pool of patents” so that developing nations can share coronavirus vaccines or drugs developed by advanced countries.  

In a related story, today’s Mainichi took up remarks made on CBS on Sunday by National Security Advisor O’Brien, who indicated that the G7 summit will probably be held in late June. “We'll make sure that it’s a safe environment if the leaders can come here,” the White House official said.

Japan urges China to act “prudently” over Hong Kong

Tuesday’s Yomiuri wrote that Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga commented on Monday on rallies held in Hong Kong in protest of China’s plan to impose sweeping anti-sedition laws that could drastically undermine civil liberties in the semi-autonomous city. He was quoted as saying: “It is important for Hong Kong to maintain a free and open system and develop in a democratic and stable manner… We hope the Chinese will handle the situation prudently.” In reference to the renewed friction between Washington and Beijing over Hong Kong and the coronavirus pandemic, the government spokesman said: “Promoting stable U.S.-China relations is important from the standpoint of ensuring regional and global peace and stability.”

Kim Jong Un pledges to further strengthen nuclear deterrence

Asahi reported on Sunday that according to North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un hosted a military meeting of the ruling Workers' Party at which he presented a new policy “to further strengthen the capability to deter nuclear war.” The paper said this was the first time for the North Korean leader to appear in the media since May 2, adding that the meeting’s participants “discussed important military steps and organizational and political measures to keep in check the persistent military threat posed by enemy forces” and “took serious measures to decisively enhance artillery attack capability.” Yomiuri ran a similar report.


GOJ approves extension of SDF’s PKO mission to Sudan

The Saturday editions of Yomiuri and Mainichi reported that the GOJ decided on Friday to extend the SDF’s mission to the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) by one year until May 31, 2021. Mainichi said the decision follows the UNSC’s decision to extend the UNMISS, adding that four senior SDF members are currently deployed on the mission on a one-year rotation.


Papers filed with prosecutors on former Russian trade representative official

The Saturday editions of all national dailies reported that the Public Safety Bureau of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department sent papers to prosecutors on May 22 on Anton Kalinin, a former deputy Russian trade representative in Japan, on suspicion of inciting a former SoftBank employee to obtain classified information in violation of the Unfair Competition Prevention Act. Mainichi noted that Kalinin left Japan in February without complying with a police request to appear for questioning. The paper wrote that the Public Safety Bureau judged that it would not be able to question Kalinin in person, adding that the investigation will be concluded following the filing of papers with prosecutors. 


Cabinet approval plunges to 27%

Sunday’s Mainichi reported on the results of its third opinion poll conducted jointly with the Social Survey Research Center on May 23, which found that public approval for the Abe cabinet was at 27%, down by 13 points from the last survey conducted on May 6. Nonsupport rose from 45% to 64%. Public support for the cabinet was 44% in the first joint survey of this type conducted on April 8. Concerning Tokyo High Public Prosecutors Office chief Kurokawa’s resignation due to a gambling scandal, a majority called for a more severe punishment, with 52% saying he should have received a disciplinary dismissal and 33% saying his resignation was appropriate. As for the responsibility of the Abe cabinet in allowing Kurokawa’s retirement to be extended from February, 47% said both Abe and Justice Minister Mori are responsible and 28% said Abe is responsible. Among those who said the responsibility lies with either Abe or both Abe and Mori, public support for the cabinet was reportedly 13% and nonsupport was 78%. The paper added that public criticism over the issue of the public prosecutor’s office apparently pushed down cabinet approval.

Monday’s Asahi also reported on the results of its weekend poll, which showed a drop in public approval for the Abe cabinet from 33% on May 16-17 to 29%, the lowest level since the current Abe administration was launched in December 2012. Nonsupport rose to 52%. On the government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, 57% expressed disapproval and 30% voiced approval.  When asked about their trust in Abe, 48% said it has dropped because of his handling of the coronavirus outbreak, 45% said it has not changed, and 5% said it has grown. As for the GOJ’s measures on COVID-19 testing, 59% expressed disapproval and 25% expressed approval. On the GOJ’s assistance for corporations or individuals who have suffered economic hardship due to the virus outbreak, 57% expressed nonsupport and 32% expressed support.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team