Morning Alert - Wednesday, February 10, 2021
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Morning news

Broadcasters led with reports on the growing view within the GOJ that lifting the COVID-19 state of emergency for prefectures in the Tokyo and Kansai areas at this point would be difficult in view of the infection situations there (NHK), a statement issued by the International Olympic Committee on Tuesday that Mori’s remarks on women were “absolutely inappropriate” (NTV, TV Asahi), the Osaka government’s decision yesterday to forgo asking the GOJ to lift the state of emergency for the prefecture (TBS), and the finding that 13 additional people tested positive for UK and South African variants of COVID-19 (Fuji TV).

Main front-page items in national papers included the Justice Ministry’s plan to revise a Civil Code provision on paternity, a WHO team’s tentative conclusion that it is “extremely unlikely” that the coronavirus leaked from a lab in Wuhan, the ongoing rallies in Burma to protest the military coup, and the likelihood that the nation’s COVID-19 vaccination plan will run into difficulties due to a problem with syringes.


Japan’s vaccination plan hits snag over syringe problem

All national papers wrote that due to a lack of syringes capable of extracting the final dose from COVID-19 vaccine vials supplied by Pfizer, the country may not be able to inoculate as many people as previously projected. While the GOJ had secured Pfizer doses for 72 million people this year based on the assumption that each vial could provide six doses, the Health Ministry has reportedly discovered that syringes that are used predominantly at local hospitals and clinics do not have low dead space, which minimizes the amount of vaccine left in the syringe after use. This means that the vial yields only five doses—enough for 60 million people. “It is extremely difficult to secure low dead space syringes,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato told the press. “We will inform the local governments that each vial yields only five doses instead of six as previously planned.”

In related stories, Asahi and Nikkei wrote that according to a poll of local governments taken by the ruling LDP about issues related to COVID-19 vaccination, many of them have run into difficulties securing sufficient numbers of doctors and nurses to administer vaccines. The municipalities also reportedly raised concern about whether enough vaccines can be made available without delay.

Osaka chooses not to ask GOJ to lift state of emergency

All national papers reported that the Osaka prefectural government decided yesterday not to ask the central government to lift the COVID-19 state of emergency for the prefecture at this point given that the local healthcare capacity is still under heavy strain despite a steady decrease in new cases. The governors of the two neighboring prefectures of Kyoto and Hyogo are also cautious about ending the state of emergency in the region on account of the infection situation in their jurisdictions. However, the three governors may ask for it to be lifted early next week if the epidemic curve continues to shift downward through the weekend. Aichi Governor Omura also indicated that it is still premature for the state of emergency to be lifted for his prefecture.

Japan to test 10,000 people per day at random

Asahi and Nikkei focused on remarks made to the press yesterday by Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister Nishimura, who disclosed that large-scale PCR testing will be conducted in urban areas to ascertain the status of community transmission of the novel coronavirus. Some 10,000 people per day will be tested at random in multiple locations in Tokyo, Osaka, and other metropolitan prefectures free of charge. The GOJ is also reportedly set to use artificial intelligence to analyze social media posts to detect early signs of COVID-19 outbreaks.

UK, South African coronavirus variants detected in nine prefectures

All national papers reported that according to the Health Ministry, 11 cases of the UK strain of the novel coronavirus were detected on Tuesday in Fukushima, Ibaraki, Kanagawa, and six other prefectures, saying that as all of the carriers are connected to one workplace, visited the same unspecified facility, and have no recent record of traveling overseas, the ministry suspects that the cases constitute community transmission. Two additional people in Kanagawa tested positive for the South African variant yesterday.


GOJ responds calmly to President Biden’s view on Tokyo Olympics

Asahi reported on the GOJ’s “calm reaction” to President Biden’s remark over the weekend that any decision about holding the Tokyo Olympics must be “based on science.” Some people have interpreted this as hesitancy on the part of the U.S. leader about convening the Games amid the pandemic. “Our top priority will be holding safe and secure Olympics,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato said to the press in reference to the President’s statement. “We will implement the necessary infection prevention measures without fail.” As for President Biden’s comment that he discussed the Olympics with Prime Minister Suga, the government spokesperson emphasized that the two leaders did not exchange views on the subject in their two teleconferences held up until now. According to the paper, an unnamed senior GOJ official said: “It is a matter of course for Japan to hold the Olympics based on science. We would like to host the Games in a manner that everyone welcomes.”

Disapproval of Tokyo Olympics head Mori’s sexist remarks grows

All national papers wrote that calls are growing at home and abroad for holding Tokyo Olympics Organizing Committee President Mori accountable for his discriminatory remarks against women. At yesterday’s Diet sessions, most opposition female lawmakers wore white to protest the former prime minister’s comments. Many local corporate sponsors of the Tokyo Games have openly expressed their strong displeasure apparently in response to a growing chorus of calls for his resignation on social media and in the media. The International Olympic Committee also issued a fresh statement on Tuesday saying: “The recent comments of Tokyo 2020 President Mori were absolutely inappropriate and in contradiction to the IOC’s commitments and the reforms of its Olympic Agenda 2020.” While pointing out that in a separate statement released earlier, the IOC had said it considered “the issue closed” following Mori's apology, the papers speculated that the IOC was forced to update its position in the face of continued criticism of the controversial statement. The dailies noted the Tokyo Olympic committee will hold an emergency meeting of its executives on Friday to discuss the matter, conjecturing that although it is desperate to quell the commotion quickly, public resentment may persist unless Mori steps down.


FM Motegi says Chinese CG ships intrusions “violate international law”

Nikkei took up a comment made on Tuesday by Foreign Minister Motegi regarding the China Coast Guard’s relentless patrols in the vicinity of the Senkakus. He called the repeated intrusions into the nation’s territorial waters by Chinese cutters a “violation of international law.”

Supra-partisan group of lawmakers condemns China’s persecution of Uyghurs

Yomiuri and Sankei wrote that a group of ruling and opposition Diet members adopted a statement yesterday denouncing human rights violations of Uyghurs by the Chinese government and calling for the Japanese government to look into what has happened in China’s Xinjiang Province and legislate sanctions on foreign government officials and entities involved in human rights violations. While noting that the Biden administration has designated China’s persecution of the Muslim minority as “genocide,” Yomiuri noted that Tokyo has stopped short of using the same word in part because Japan is not a signatory to the 1948 Genocide Convention. Foreign Minister Motegi told the press yesterday that Japan will give careful consideration to the possibility of ratifying the international treaty.

Top Japanese, Australian diplomats discuss situation in Myanmar

All national papers except Asahi reported that Foreign Minister Motegi and his Australian counterpart Payne held a teleconference on Tuesday to discuss the political unrest caused by the military coup in Myanmar (Burma). They agreed to press the junta to restore democracy and release Aung San Suu Kyi and other NLD officials quickly. The two officials also affirmed the enhancement of coordination between the U.S., Japan, Australia, and India. The session was reportedly initiated by the Australian side.


U.S. Navy carries out training in South China Sea

Yomiuri spotlighted a 7th Fleet announcement on Tuesday that two carrier strike groups conducted a joint drill in the South China Sea on the same day for the purpose of improving operational coordination and command and control capabilities. The USS Theodore Roosevelt, USS Nimitz, and other warships participated in the training, which was the first one of its kind under the Biden administration. While quoting the U.S. Navy as saying that the exercise represents the U.S. commitment to realizing a free and open Indo-Pacific, the daily said it was perhaps intended to remind China that the Biden administration will maintain the previous administration’s hard line toward it. Mainichi ran a similar article.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team