Morning Alert   -   Monday, June 15, 2020
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Morning news

Most networks gave top play to reports that Tokyo confirmed 47 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday, saying that 18 of the patients are employed at the same “host club” in Shinjuku, Tokyo, and 14 others are also connected to nightlife establishments. This is reportedly the first time for the number of new cases in one day to exceed 40 in Tokyo since May 5. Meanwhile, TBS reported that both Prime Minister Abe and Tokyo Governor Koike stressed that the high number is the result of active PCR testing in places where cluster infections are suspected. Fuji TV led with a report that a man was arrested on Sunday after wielding a knife in Kabukicho, Shinjuku.

No papers were published today due to a press holiday.


Tokyo recorded highest number of deaths ever in March, April

Saturday’s Sankei led with statistics compiled by the Tokyo metropolitan government showing that a record high number of 20,801 people died in the prefecture in March and April . As the figure was 1,481 higher than the preceding five-year average, the paper conjectured that a large majority of the 1,481 “excess deaths” may have been caused by the novel coronavirus. According to the daily, the official death toll from the COVID-19 outbreak in the two-month period was 119. Public health professionals believe that some of the 1,481 people might have been COVID-19 patients. There is speculation that these patients may not have been tested for the virus due to insufficient PCR testing capacity and may not have received proper treatment since the healthcare system was overwhelmed at the time. The paper said some of them also might have died because they steered clear of hospitals out of fear of contracting the virus. The experts reportedly predict that the number of excess deaths may have risen further in May, during which a total of 185 Tokyoites died of COVID-19, according to official data.

In a related article, Sunday’s Yomiuri wrote that the definition of “COVID-19-related death” varies among prefectural governments and major municipalities. Although most municipal governments categorized deaths of patients who had contracted the disease as “COVID-19-related” without exception, some governments categorized them differently if doctors judged the cause of death to be something other than the new coronavirus. For instance, the Saitama prefectural government has announced that a total of 13 COVID-19 patients have died of cancer and other diseases. Public health experts are reportedly calling for the central government to establish a uniform standard for COVID-19-related death so as to compile and present accurate data on the outbreak.

Four out of five new COVID-19 cases confirmed in eight prefectures

Sunday’s Yomiuri reported that one month has elapsed since the coronavirus state of emergency was lifted for 39 prefectures on May 14. A total of 1,241 new cases were detected nationwide in the following 30 days, and 282 of them were from those 39 prefectures, meaning that close to 80% of the new cases were confirmed in Tokyo, Hokkaido, Kanagawa and five other prefectures. New cases were reported almost daily in the aforementioned three prefectures, with the total new caseloads for Tokyo, Kanagawa, and Hokkaido from May 13 to June 12 being 440, 209, and 175, respectively. As tourism beyond prefectural borders is expected to be allowed beginning on June 19, the daily said many rural governments are calling for thorough measures to prevent infection at sightseeing spots.

Hospitalization requirement for COVID-19 reduced from two weeks to ten days

All Saturday morning papers reported that the Health Ministry revised on Friday its guidelines for COVID-19 hospitalization, saying that patients with minor or no symptoms can now be discharged from the hospital 10 days after they first developed symptoms or had tissue samples collected for PCR testing, four days shorter than the existing requirement of two weeks. Such patients will not need to undergo PCR testing before leaving the hospital.

Health Ministry to roll out contact tracing app next week

The Saturday editions of all national dailies took up the Health Ministry’s announcement on Friday that it will release a smartphone app next week that will inform users when there is a possibility that they may have come into close contact with coronavirus carriers. The technology defines “close contact” as “an encounter lasting 15 minutes or longer separated by a distance of 1 meter or less.” The use of the software, which does not record GPS-based location data, is completely voluntary.

People slowly returning to normal activities following lifting of state of emergency

Asahi front-paged a story on Sunday on smartphone tracking data showing that the number of people out and about near major train stations in the 39 prefectures for which the COVID-19 state of emergency was lifted a month ago has returned to some 80% of pre-crisis levels in January and February. The corresponding numbers for Tokyo, Osaka, and the remaining six prefectures were about 50 to 70%.

GOJ announces COVID-19 prevention guidelines for nightspots

All Sunday papers wrote that on Saturday, Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister Nishimura released a set of guidelines for live music venues and other nightlife establishments to follow after they are allowed to reopen on June 19. They are advised to reduce customer capacity by half, collect and store visitor information for possible contract tracing later, and maintain a distance of 1 to 2 meters between customers as well as between customers and musicians and other performers. Mainichi wrote that some establishments are perplexed by the recommendations and saying they are “unrealistic” because many of their patrons prefer to maintain anonymity when going to such nightspots.


Distrust growing between Japan, China

Saturday’s Asahi wrote that it has now become almost impossible for the Abe administration to invite Chinese leader Xi to visit Japan as a state guest this year because of strong opposition within the ruling LDP over the situation in Hong Kong and China’s continued maritime push around the Senkaku Islands. According to the daily, the Chinese have also been losing interest in the trip since they are unhappy with Tokyo’s diplomatic moves, such as closing the border to all Chinese travelers beginning on April 1 and calling for Taiwan’s participation as an observer in the World Health Assembly in May.

According to a Chinese diplomatic source, Vice Foreign Minister Akiba’s summoning of the Chinese ambassador on May 28 to convey Tokyo’s “deep apprehension” about China’s enactment of national security legislation for Hong Kong prompted the Xi administration to decide against a state visit to Japan this year. “The fact that the ambassador was summoned over a matter that is not bilateral was significant,” the source said. “It was an intervention into China’s domestic affairs.” The daily added that Beijing is not eager to have Xi visit Japan at a time when public support for Prime Minister Abe has been dropping ahead of the end of his term in September of next year. “We see no value in conducting diplomacy with a departing foreign leader who is not supported by the public,” said another diplomatic source.

In a related story, Saturday’s Mainichi took up remarks made at the Diet on Friday by Foreign Minister Motegi, who expressed concern about China’s relentless maritime operations in the vicinity of the Senkaku Islands. He was quoted as saying: “China has been taking one step after another to alter the status quo and create a new reality…. Japan needs to respond resolutely to China’s approach of expanding its sphere of interest by changing the existing conditions little by little.”

LDP calls for resumption of travel to and from Taiwan

Saturday’s Mainichi wrote that the ruling LDP decided on Friday to ask the Abe administration to consider adding Taiwan to the four nations – Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam, and Thailand – with which it plans to resume reciprocal travel in the summer given that the island region has been just as successful as them in combating the novel coronavirus.

In a related story, Sunday’s Sankei reported that in late May the Taiwanese government donated some 50,000 items of personal protective equipment to a Japanese parliamentary group promoting bilateral relations for distribution to healthcare providers and firefighters. As Taipei also donated some 2 million face masks to Japan in April, the daily said LDP officials were very grateful for Taiwan’s generosity.

Japan arranging flight to Vietnam as first step in easing border control

Fuji TV reported on Sunday that the Japanese government is arranging a flight to Vietnam in late June as the first step in relaxing travel restrictions associated with the coronavirus pandemic. The approximately 250 passengers will primarily be business managers and engineers. Coordination is underway for them to be undergo PCR testing for COVID-19 at their port of departure.

Denuclearization remains stalled two years after Trump-Kim summit

All national dailies carried multiple reports over the weekend on the two-year anniversary of the first-ever summit between President Trump and DPRK strongman Kim Jong Un in Singapore. Sankei claimed that no progress has been made on the denuclearization front, quoting DPRK Foreign Minister Ri as saying in a statement released on Friday that there has been zero improvement in DPRK-U.S. relations. The daily argued that the past two years have witnessed “steady improvement” in DPRK missiles capable of reaching Japan, asserting that President Trump’s inclination to condone Pyongyang’s provocations and ROK President Moon’s propensity to pander to his northern neighbor have undermined trilateral security coordination between Washington, Tokyo, and Seoul.

Other papers took note of various statements issued by senior DPRK officials over the past few days in which they blasted South Korea for its efforts to help revive U.S.-DPRK denuclearization dialogue. A DPRK Foreign Ministry official reportedly urged the Moon administration to stop “talking nonsense” about the denuclearization of North Korea, while Kim Jong Un’s sister Kim Yo Jong reportedly threatened military action against South Korea by saying that Seoul would soon witness the collapse of a “useless” liaison office on the border.

China looking to obtain global certification for system to monitor people’s behavior

Saturday’s Yomiuri front-paged a finding that the Chinese government has proposed making its IT-based urban development model using big data to monitor citizens an international standard. The idea, which was put forward in April to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), is reportedly based on its successful experience in reining in the coronavirus outbreak by monitoring citizens’ activities. The Chinese government reportedly submitted the urban development model as a framework for city administration using big data to control infectious diseases. According to the paper, the GOJ is concerned that the proposed Chinese model, which tracks and monitors individual behavior, may be adopted because it could lead to excessive collection and monitoring of personal information and hence could violate people’s privacy. Tokyo reportedly plans to oppose holding an ISO vote on the Chinese proposal.


Abe defends resumption of FRF construction work in Henoko

All national papers reported on the resumption of operations on Friday to build the Futenma replacement facility off Camp Schwab after a two-month suspension on account of the confirmation of a COVID-19 case among the workers in April, noting that local officials and residents reacted very strongly. Governor Tamaki denounced the move by calling it “extremely regrettable.” He underscored that the results of the recent prefectural assembly election pointed to the local people’s steadfast objection to the relocation initiative. However, Prime Minister Abe reportedly defended the resumption by saying: “We would like to complete the construction work as soon as possible since keeping MCAS Futenma in its present location must be avoided at all costs.”


Anti-racism protest held in Tokyo

NHK reported on Sunday that people took to the streets in Shibuya, Tokyo, earlier in the day to protest the death of George Floyd last month. The network said many foreign students and Japanese university students who had connected with each other through social media joined the protest, holding up signs saying “Black Lives Matter” and “Protect Human Rights.” According to a source, several thousand people participated in the event. TV Asahi carried a similar report this morning.


Tokyo Governor Koike seeks second term

The Saturday editions of all national papers reported that during a press conference on Friday, Tokyo Governor Koike officially announced her intention to seek reelection in the July 5 gubernatorial race. The governor stressed that she will call for the voters’ support for her efforts to stem a second wave of the coronavirus infection, rebuild the local economy to make Tokyo an international financial center, and pursue administrative reforms. She explained that she will not make any stump speeches. “My campaign will be conducted online with its central theme being ‘with coronavirus, post-coronavirus,’” said Koike. “Since I am the incumbent, my top priority will be to perform my gubernatorial duties rather than campaigning.” Koike emphasized that she will not seek the endorsement of any political parties, with Mainichi conjecturing that the governor is confident that she will be able to clinch a second term.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team