Morning Alert - Wednesday, May 26, 2021
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Morning news

Broadcasters led with reports on arrangements being made by the GOJ to extend the current COVID-19 state of emergency until June 20 (NHK, TBS, TV Asahi), the administration of 4,876 doses of COVID-19 vaccine at the large-scale vaccination center in Tokyo and 2,472 in Osaka yesterday (NTV), and the possible implications of the State Department’s travel advisory for Japan being raised to Level 4 (Fuji TV).

Main front-page items in national papers included the upgraded U.S. travel advisory for Japan, the growing likelihood of another extension of the COVID-19 state of emergency for ten prefectures through June 20, a 4.7% drop in the number of newborns in FY2020 amid the pandemic, and the GOJ’s plan to help companies and local governments set up large-scale data centers in rural areas.


Tokyo, Osaka, other prefectures to call for extension of COVID-19 state of emergency

All national dailies reported that most of the ten prefectures currently under the coronavirus state of emergency have come to the realization that it would be difficult to end the declaration on May 31 as planned since the infection situation still remains severe despite gradual drops in new cases. Local hospital capacities are reportedly still strained on account of the hospitalization of a large number of people in serious condition. Osaka Governor Yoshimura is expected to ask the GOJ today to extend the declaration, with more prefectural leaders likely to follow.

Asahi and Sankei wrote that the Suga administration is likely to heed their request and decide on Friday to extend the emergency declaration through June 20 to make sure that cases do not rise ahead of the opening of the Tokyo Olympics on July 23. The GOJ is also reportedly hoping that a three-week extension will bring the baseline of the epidemic curve to a fairly low level so that a certain number of domestic spectators can be allowed to attend the Games.

GOJ unveils measures to accelerate vaccination

All national papers wrote that the Suga administration approved on Tuesday a set of administrative measures designed to speed up the COVID-19 vaccination process, including monetary incentives for clinics to increase the number of shots given and the mobilization of paramedics, medical lab technicians, and pharmacists to administer vaccines. The GOJ also called for the use of telemedicine for pre-vaccination consultations so that people can spend less time at vaccination centers.

According to Nikkei, the average number of shots given per day nationwide has been about 400,000, some 600,000 short of Prime Minister Suga’s call for 1 million. In order to fill this gap and prevail in what he has described as the “all-out battle” against the virus, the premier is reportedly willing to mobilize all available government resources. He has even reinterpreted the existing regulations to enable medical professionals other than physicians and nurses to administer shots and increase coordination between the central and local governments and medical associations to eliminate bottlenecks.


Japanese officials downplay impact of latest U.S. travel advisory on Tokyo Olympics

All national dailies gave extensive coverage to the State Department’s announcement on Monday that it had raised its travel advisory for Japan to the highest level on its four-tier scale—“Level 4: Do Not Travel”—due to the COVID-19 situation. Asahi and Mainichi emphasized that the updated travel alert may complicate the GOJ’s plan to go ahead with the Tokyo Olympics, with Asahi citing U.S. media reports speculating that the advisory could dissuade American and other foreign athletes from participating in the Summer Games.

The dailies concurrently highlighted a statement released by the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC) reaffirming its commitment to sending its athletes to Japan, as well as comments made by Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato, Tokyo Governor Koike, and other Japanese officials, all of them downplaying the possible impact of the new travel advisory on their plans to stage a “safe and secure” Games. “We weren’t expecting U.S. spectators in the first place,” said an unnamed high-ranking GOJ official.

However, some GOJ officials are reportedly apprehensive that the updated travel alert may reinforce widespread local opposition to the Suga administration’s resolve to go ahead with the international sporting event. Nikkei wrote that it could have a certain level of impact on other countries since the U.S. has sent the largest delegation to the Olympics in the past. The business daily projected that some countries may choose not to send their athletes to Japan for planned Olympic training camps.

According to Asahi, an unnamed State Department spokesperson said: “The number of Japan-bound U.S. tourists for the Tokyo Olympics is extremely limited. We understand the careful considerations that the Japanese government and the IOC are weighing. The Japanese government has also explained that public health will be the top priority. President Biden supports the U.S. athletes who have trained diligently for the Games and will compete under the tradition of the Olympic spirit.” Pointing out that the U.S. advisory is not legally binding, Nikkei said U.S. travelers may still be able to visit Japan. The business daily also quoted an unnamed U.S. Embassy spokesperson as saying: “The advisory is not asking American citizens in Japan to evacuate.”

Concern grows about emergence of “lawless zone” during Olympics

Mainichi reported on growing concern among local public health experts and officials involved in the preparations for the Tokyo Olympics about what they see as the paramount difficulty of keeping track of the some 90,000 foreign athletes, journalists, and other stakeholders. Although the International Olympic Committee and the local organizers have drafted a “playbook” outlining anti-COVID-19 measures that the participants must follow while in Japan, the daily claimed that it is almost impossible to build and enforce a system to monitor their compliance with the rules around the clock. The organizers have decided to deploy “monitors” to check on the participants, but the details of their patrol operations have yet been decided. While expressing doubts about the effectiveness of the GOJ plan to deport participants in the event that they violate the rules, the daily quoted a Japanese organizing committee source as saying: “Tokyo may become a ‘lawless zone’ if we fail to enforce the infection prevention measures.”


Chargé Young meets with his Taiwanese counterpart

Sankei printed a brief Kyodo piece from Taipei that Taiwan’s top representative in Japan Frank Hsieh wrote on Facebook on Tuesday that he invited Embassy Chargé d’Affaires Young to his residence. This was reportedly the first time for the top U.S. diplomat in Japan to visit the Taiwanese mission in Tokyo since bilateral diplomatic relations were severed in 1979. The article added that Hsieh also interacted with the Chargé at the U.S. ambassador’s residence on March 4. NHK carried a similar report on Tuesday evening, showing photos of the Chargé visiting the residence of Hsieh in Tokyo.

ROK voices concern about Japan’s plan to discharge Fukushima radioactive water

Yomiuri reported from Geneva that during the ongoing WHO conference held remotely on Tuesday, a South Korea representative called for Japan to provide more information on its decision to discharge treated radioactive water from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant into the ocean. “We want Japan to disclose information with transparency,” the official was quoted as saying. “We are strongly requesting that wide-ranging consultations be held with stakeholders ahead of the discharge.” In response, a GOJ representative reportedly underscored that the discharge into the ocean is “technically feasible” and “in line with international practices.”

ROK research entity calls for improvement of ties with Japan

Mainichi wrote from Seoul that an economic research institution affiliated with South Korea’s biggest business federation released a report on Tuesday calling for the ROK and the Japanese governments to pursue reconciliation since the frosty ties have damaged bilateral trade. The think tank analyzed the size of the nation’s trade with the U.S., Japan, China, and the EU between 2019 and 2020 and compared these figures with the corresponding figures between 2017 and 2018. It found that trade with Japan plunged by almost 12% and that Japanese investment in South Korea’s manufacturing industry also plummeted by about 60% during the same period. Because the bilateral ties deteriorated precipitously following the 2018 Supreme Court ruling ordering Nippon Steel to pay compensation to former requisitioned workers, the think tank concluded that the “political and diplomatic friction” caused a significant contraction in bilateral trade, calling for the two governments to make accelerated efforts to restore viable economic cooperation.

Singapore to end restrictions on Japanese food imports

Asahi and Yomiuri reported on a teleconference held yesterday between the prime ministers of Japan and Singapore, saying that the Singaporean leader promised that the restrictions on Japanese food imports that have been in place since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident will be completely lifted by the end of the year.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team