Morning Alert   -   Thursday, May 28, 2020
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Morning news

NHK gave top play to a report that there is growing concern about a "second wave" of infection with the new coronavirus in the city of Kitakyushu in Fukuoka, as new cases have been confirmed there for five consecutive days after zero cases were reported for 23 days in a row. TV Asahi led with a report that on Wednesday Kanagawa lifted its request for all businesses to temporarily close. TBS gave top coverage to a follow-up report on yesterday's arrest of the man suspected of setting fire to a Kyoto Animation Co. studio last July. NTV and Fuji TV led with follow-up reports on TV personality Yuya Tegoshi’s decision to suspend his show business activities after admitting to participating in drinking parties while the nation was under a state of emergency.

Front-page items in national dailies included the Abe cabinet’s approval of the second supplementary budget bill to fend off the COVID-19 economic fallout and the growing consensus between the GOJ and the ruling coalition that the start of the school year should not be shifted to September in 2021.


COVID-19 reemerges in Kitakyushu

Nikkei and Sankei reported that following the confirmation of 22 new COVID-19 cases over five consecutive days, the municipal government of Kitakyushu, Fukuoka Prefecture, has decided to close some 43 public facilities. The municipality is alarmed by the growing prospect of a “second wave” following a lapse in new cases for 23 days until May 22. Eight people reportedly tested positive on Wednesday alone. As the city authorities are particularly concerned that they have not been able to pinpoint the routes of infection for most of the cases, the GOJ dispatched a team of experts tasked with containing clusters through contact tracing. The rate of new cases there was 2.3 per 100,000 in the preceding week, exceeding the GOJ-set criterion of less than 0.5.

State of emergency may have had limited effect in reining in COVID-19

Nikkei’s website published a column by a science writer, who expressed the view that Prime Minister Abe’s declaration of a state of emergency over the coronavirus on April 7 may have had little effect in stemming the spread of the virus especially in the Kanto area. The author pointed out that data released on May 14 by the GOJ coronavirus taskforce showed that the number of new cases had already started declining on March 27. Some epidemiologists have reportedly speculated that Tokyo Governor Koike’s reference to a “lockdown” two days earlier and media reports on March 30 that comedian Ken Shimura had died of pneumonia caused by the coronavirus probably prompted many people in the Tokyo metropolitan area to avoid going out even before the premier’s announcement.

Since the real-time effective reproductive ratio of COVID-19, which had hovered at around 2 until March 25, had also fallen below 1 by the end of March, these experts conjectured that the state of emergency probably had limited impact in changing people’s behavior. However, public health professionals believe that the declaration may have been effective in “prolonging” people’s tendency to stay home. The columnist stressed the importance of evaluating the effectiveness of the state of emergency in arresting the spread of the virus in preparation for a “second wave,” adding the data suggests that such a declaration needs to be issued sooner rather than later.


U.S. to convene G7 summit on June 25-26

Nikkei reported that the USG has proposed to the other G7 members holding their annual summit in Washington on June 25-26 to discuss how to normalize the economy amid the coronavirus pandemic. Other items on the agenda will reportedly be the establishment of guidelines for resuming international travel, reconfiguration of supply chains, development of COVID-19 vaccines, reform of such international institutions as the WHO and the WTO, and debt relief for developing nations. On cross-border travel, the participants are likely to discuss whether foreign travelers can be admitted entry pending the submission of certificates proving that they have received negative PCR test results. According to the daily, Tokyo has reportedly asked that the promotion of digital currency, export restrictions on dual-use technology, artificial intelligence, and international data distribution be put on the table for discussion by the G7 leaders.

Mainichi also reported on the upcoming summit, noting that Prime Minister Abe has decided to attend. He will reportedly propose the launch of an international “pool of patents” so that developing nations can share coronavirus vaccines and drugs developed by advanced countries. The paper projected that the leaders may also discuss how to deal with China amid the growing friction between Washington and Beijing over the coronavirus and Hong Kong. 


GOJ approves another ¥117 trillion relief package to shore up economy

All national papers reported that the Abe administration endorsed a 31.9 trillion-yen ($296 billion) second supplementary budget bill on Wednesday to deploy a secondary relief package worth 117 trillion yen ($1.09 trillion) to fend off the economic fallout from the novel coronavirus. The new stimulus package is aimed at supporting companies that are struggling financially due to the outbreak by providing rent subsidies covering six months and expanding interest-free business loans. The size of the latest pump-priming package is the same as the first one launched in April, which was the largest ever.

Yomiuri wrote that the massive stimulus packages, which amount to the equivalent of 40% of GDP, are intended to prepare for a “prolonged war” against the coronavirus, which has already taken a toll on the Japanese economy. The daily said the Abe administration had little choice but to launch another huge stimulus package to address soaring public discontent about Prime Minister Abe’s handling of the outbreak and his policy of extending the mandatory retirement age for public prosecutors. Nikkei said that although a substantial amount of money will be allocated for the medical sector in preparation for a “second wave” of infection, the GOJ’s funding for vaccine development is much less than that of the U.S. and China.


September start of academic year unlikely for time being

All national dailies reported that a rough consensus has been forged between the GOJ and the ruling coalition that moving the start of school year from April to September next year will be difficult. They have reportedly concluded that the introduction of a September start without sufficient preparation would cause turmoil in schools in view of the chorus of objections raised by many education experts and teachers.

In a related story, Nikkei wrote that more than 70% of prefectural education boards across the nation assume that even if public schools reopen, it will be difficult to conduct classes as usual due to various restrictions including the need to practice social distancing. School authorities are reportedly considering breaking classes into smaller groups, reducing the time that students spend at school, adopting flexible commuting schedules, and canceling some classes so as to prevent students from being exposed to the “three Cs” – closed spaces, crowds, and close-contact settings. Most schools are also likely to shorten the summer break to make up for classes that have not been conducted due to the prolonged school closure for the past several months. 

Meanwhile, Asahi noted that the Japan Pediatric Society has released a report claiming that school closures due to the coronavirus outbreak are causing more harm than good for students since almost no cluster infections have occurred in schools and most of the children who contracted the virus were asymptomatic or had minor symptoms. The pediatricians reportedly highlighted the closure’s adverse effects on children, such as fewer learning opportunities and social interactions. They also pointed out the risk of domestic violence and child abuse because of prolonged time at home.  


Campaign for Okinawa assembly election to start tomorrow

Asahi and Sankei reported that the official election campaign period for the Okinawa prefectural assembly will begin tomorrow, noting that attention will be focused on whether forces close to Governor Tamaki will be able to maintain a majority in the 48-member legislature in the vote that takes place on June 7. While the LDP is aiming to clinch a majority in cooperation with its junior partner Komeito party and conservative-minded independents, the prospects are reportedly dim since Komeito decided in April not to field two of its four potential candidates on account of the coronavirus outbreak. While the LDP and like-minded forces reportedly need to elect all their candidates to secure a majority, it appears to be increasingly difficult due in part to a plunge in public support for the Abe administration. Governor Tamaki is set to actively call for support for his candidates based on the assessment that retaining a majority will be indispensable in order to derail the plan to construct a Futenma replacement facility off Camp Schwab.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team