Morning Alert - Thursday, August 6, 2020
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Morning news

NHK gave top coverage to a report saying governors are split between those calling on people to refrain from traveling across prefectural borders during the Obon holidays next week, and those welcoming people to return to their hometowns. Fuji TV led with a report that the governor of Aichi declared a state of emergency for his prefecture yesterday, calling on people to avoid nonessential outings and traveling across prefectural borders during the Obon holidays. TV Asahi reported that Chairman Omi of the GOJ subcommittee on COVID-19 advised at a press conference yesterday that people should refrain from returning to their hometowns if it would be difficult for them to avoid the “Three Cs” and take thorough preventive measures during the holidays. TBS led with a report that 263 new COVID-19 cases were confirmed in Tokyo yesterday, saying the number of people hospitalized in Tokyo reached 1,475, the highest figure since May 12. NTV led with a report that the temperature in the Tokyo area reached 34.2 degrees Celsius yesterday.

Lead stories in national papers included Japan’s plan to host a cyber drill involving the U.S. and nine other countries (Sankei), China’s apparent taking samples of natural resources during maritime research operations conducted off Okinotorishima last month (Sankei), and the annual peace memorial ceremony held in Hiroshima today to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing (Mainichi).


U.S. Ambassador to Japan nominee to seek greater contribution from Japan

NHK reported this morning that Kenneth Weinstein, who has been nominated as the next U.S. Ambassador to Japan by President Trump, underwent his Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday. The network said the U.S. Ambassador-nominee stated that he will urge Japan to shoulder more responsibility in order to respond to the serious security threat to Northeast Asia posed by China’s military buildup. He was shown saying: “We are doing more; Japan needs to do more. Prime Minister Abe understands this. He understands this well. Japan has certainly significantly increased its purchases of U.S. military equipment. I am optimistic that we will come to some sort of a fruitful conclusion for the host nation support negotiation.” The network said that if the appointment is approved by the Senate, Weinstein will arrive in Japan to replace former Ambassador Hagerty who resigned to run for the Senate.

Taiwan raises alert level on travelers from Japan

Asahi reported that the Taiwanese public health authorities decided yesterday to ask travelers from Japan to self-quarantine for two weeks upon arrival instead of the current one week on account of the surge in infections in Japan.

Russian cabinet member visits Northern Territories

Yomiuri and Sankei wrote from Moscow that a Russian government cabinet minister attended a ceremony on Wednesday marking the launch of a medical facility on Kunashiri Island, saying that this was the first trip to the disputed Northern Territories by a senior Russian official in almost a year.


COVID-19 spreading rapidly in Kyushu, Okinawa

Asahi front-paged a finding that following the launch of the GOJ’s “Go To Travel” tourism promotion campaign on July 22, the number of COVID-19 cases has surged across Japan, especially in Kyushu and Okinawa. Only one case was reported per day on average in the week ending on July 21 in Okinawa, but the corresponding figure for the week ending on Aug. 4 was 58. Kumamoto and Miyazaki also recorded spikes in new cases. While both prefectures had confirmed less than one case per week before the tourism campaign began, Kumamoto reported 21 and Miyazaki reported 16 new cases in the week ending on Aug. 4.

Meanwhile, the nationwide caseload on Wednesday was 1,358, including 263 cases in Tokyo, 196 in Osaka, 147 in Aichi, 123 in Fukuoka, 81 in Kanagawa, and 77 in Okinawa. A state of emergency went into effect in Aichi today. As well, the Aichi prefectural government will reportedly urge the public to avoid going out in the next two weeks.

GOJ panel to come up with indexes to identify COVID-19 infection situation

Mainichi front-paged a finding that the GOJ coronavirus taskforce advisory subcommittee plans to release shortly six quantitative indexes that it will use to identify the status of coronavirus infection on a four-level scale. The indexes will include the occupancy rates of hospital beds, number of hospitalized patients per 100,000 people, PCR test positivity rates, and percentage of patients whose transmission routes cannot be traced. According to the daily, the public health experts will categorize the spread of infection as “explosive” if more than half of the secured hospital beds are filled, the transmission routes of more than 50% of virus carriers cannot be identified, and the positivity rate exceeds 10%.

Japan running into difficulty reducing turnaround time for PCR tests

Nikkei reported that many Japanese labs are apparently falling behind in processing and delivering the results of PCR diagnostic tests on COVID-19, noting that it usually takes more than 72 hours to obtain results. The testing is apparently unable to keep up with the spread of infection, as a nationwide surge in coronavirus cases is putting strain on the testing system. The daily pointed out persistent bottlenecks in the testing process, such as the time-consuming delivery of collected tissue samples from hospitals to labs and the prevalence at the labs of machines that cannot process samples quickly, underscoring that asymptomatic carriers may spread the virus widely if it takes too long to get results.

The daily added that the use of antigen tests, which can produce results more quickly, remains limited because the method is not as accurate as PCR testing and the fees paid by the government for their use are relatively low.

Politicians call for GOJ to reimburse hospitals treating virus patients

Nikkei wrote that a supra-partisan group of lawmakers has put together a recommendation for the GOJ to fully compensate hospitals for financial losses suffered as a result of treating COVID-19 patients. According to a poll taken by a national hospital association, hospitals and clinics that treated coronavirus patients posted 97 million yen ($918,000) in debt on average in April and 100 million yen ($947,000) in May because they were not able to perform surgeries or other high-income services on account of the need to focus on coronavirus patients.

GOJ will not ask people to refrain from travel to hometowns during upcoming holidays

All national papers reported that the GOJ decided yesterday not to ask people to avoid traveling to their hometowns “across the board” during the upcoming Obon summer holidays following the submission of advice by public health experts calling for the public to take thorough infection prevention measures, such as avoiding the “Three Cs” and wearing face masks when visiting elderly relatives. However, most prefectural governors in the countryside are reportedly calling for city dwellers not to travel to their prefectures this summer.

Osaka leader’s announcement on mouthwash draws criticism from medical professionals

All national dailies wrote that criticism is growing within the medical community of Osaka Governor Yoshimura’s announcement on Tuesday on the results of research that he asserted suggest the effectiveness of povidone iodine mouthwash in reducing COVID-19 infection. Experts reportedly stressed that there is no solid scientific proof of his claim and took issue with a leading politician openly recommending the use of a medical product without comprehending its potential adverse effects. The papers added that such products have already disappeared from store shelves across the nation and are now being sold online at exorbitant prices.

Japan likely to seal deal with UK firm on provision of COVID-19 vaccines

Nikkei projected that the GOJ is set to close a deal in the near future with UK pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca on the provision of coronavirus vaccines for at least 50 million people in Japan. A clinical test of the vaccine currently under development with the University of Oxford is reportedly expected to start in Japan shortly.


U.S., Japan, Europe, others to conduct joint cyber drill in autumn

Yomiuri wrote in its top story that the GOJ plans to organize this fall a massive cyberattack drill in coordination with the U.S. and selected European and other countries, such as the UK, Australia, and Israel. The training will reportedly be based on the scenario of key infrastructure of the participating nations, such as power supply and telecommunications networks, being hit by a simultaneous cyberattack. Participating officials are expected to verify the procedures for ascertaining the scope of the attack and damage, identifying the perpetrators, and restoring the damaged infrastructure. The daily conjectured that the drill is being organized with China’s rapidly growing presence in cyberspace in mind. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the GOJ may give up on conducting the drill in Tokyo “in person” and instead hold it via videoconference.

Part falls off U.S. fighter jet in Okinawa

Asahi reported that according to the Okinawa Defense Bureau, a component measuring 18 cm in length and weighing 3.6 kg dropped from a Kadena-based USAF F-15 on Tuesday morning. The exact location where the object fell reportedly remains unknown. Governor Tamaki was upset by the latest mishap, telling the press yesterday: “This is a very serious crisis that could threaten the lives of the local people.” He called for the U.S. military to suspend all flights of the fighter jets, investigate the cause of the incident, and disclose the findings quickly. The governor reportedly took issue with the fact that it took almost half a day for the bureau to notify the prefectural government of the incident.

China may have sampled natural resources in Japan’s EEZ in Pacific

Sankei gave top play to maritime research conducted by a Chinese vessel off the coast of Okinotorishima in the northern Pacific for three weeks in July without obtaining Japan’s prior consent, speculating that the Chinese might have collected samples of natural resources. According to several GOJ sources, Japan Coast Guard patrol boats reportedly witnessed the crew of the Chinese research ship releasing into the ocean several times a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) that is usually used to gather samples from the ocean. Noting that the Chinese government has taken issue with Japan’s territorial claims to the small islet by calling it a “rock” around which an exclusive economic zone cannot be designated, the paper conjectured that China is anxious to undermine Japan’s control of the outcrop by persistently conducting maritime surveys.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team