Morning Alert - Thursday, June 24, 2021
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Morning news

Broadcasters led with reports of signs of a resurgence of COVID-19 in Tokyo (NHK), the birth of giant panda twins in Ueno Zoo in Tokyo yesterday (NTV), an announcement that ticketholders for eight Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic events will need to go through another lottery due to the 10,000 cap on spectators (TBS), torrential rain in some parts of Tokyo yesterday (Fuji TV), and the number of new coronavirus cases in Tokyo yesterday topping 600 for the first time in about a month (TV Asahi).

Main front-page items in national papers included a Supreme Court ruling that legal provisions forcing married couples to use the same surname are constitutional, the shutdown of anti-Chinese newspaper Apple Daily in Hong Kong, and the restart of operations at a reactor at Mihama Nuclear Power Plant in Fukui Prefecture.


Over 10 million Japanese fully vaccinated against COVID-19

Nikkei wrote that according to the GOJ, some 10.37 million Japanese had received two doses of COVID-19 vaccine and a total of 34.4 million doses had been administered as of June 22. Close to half of the people aged 65 or older had received at least one dose of the vaccine. Perhaps as a result of the vaccine rollout, the proportion of the elderly among new cases dropped from 17% in late May to 11% in the past few days. Hospital occupancy rates for seriously ill patients have also declined markedly in prefectures with high vaccination rates, such as Saga and Wakayama. The percentage of cluster infections that occurred at medical facilities plummeted from 30% on Feb. 15 to 3% on June 21. The Health Ministry attributed the plunge to the vaccination of a large number of healthcare workers in the spring.

In a related story, Sankei highlighted a comment made by Administrative Reform Minister Kono on a TV show on Wednesday expressing hope that Japan will achieve herd immunity in October or November.

Meanwhile, Yomiuri spotlighted the Health Ministry announcement yesterday that a man in his 90s died due to a subarachnoid hemorrhage a day after receiving the Moderna vaccine, saying that this was the first confirmed death in Japan of a person after being vaccinated with the Moderna product. The ministry is reportedly evaluating whether the product triggered the brain hemorrhage. According to the ministry, a total of 355 people have died after receiving the Pfizer vaccine in Japan. The ministry is currently examining whether there was a causal relationship between vaccination and death for 78 out of the 355 cases, but such a relationship has been ruled out for the rest of the cases.

GOJ to stop accepting applications for launching vaccination centers

All national papers reported on Administrative Reform Minister Kono’s announcement on Wednesday night that beginning this weekend the central government will stop accepting applications from municipal governments, universities, and corporations for launching COVID-19 vaccination platforms because of the looming possibility of a shortage of the Moderna vaccine following the submission of a large number of such applications. According to the minister, while the GOJ has secured 50 million doses of the Moderna vaccine through the end of September, 45 million of them have already been committed for use at various facilities. The GOJ has already received some 3,700 applications for launching vaccination centers that will cover almost 15 million people.

Mainichi wrote that the vaccine rollout is apparently proceeding more rapidly than the GOJ had anticipated, with an unnamed Kantei official expressing confidence that the GOJ will be able to achieve Prime Minister Suga’s goal of fully vaccinating the elderly by the end of July and most Japanese by the end of November. The daily added that demand for vaccines is likely to exceed supply, forcing the GOJ to review its priorities for delivery.

In related stories, Mainichi and Yomiuri reported that the Health Ministry is weighing the use of the COVID-19 vaccine produced by UK drug giant AstraZeneca for people aged 60 or older in view of the advice of some health experts that the product should not be excluded from domestic use despite foreign data suggesting the occasional occurrence of blood clots among younger people.

Signs point to virus resurgence in Tokyo

All papers focused on a growing consensus among health experts that a COVID-19 resurgence appears to be occurring in Tokyo, especially among people in their 20s. The number of new cases in the nation’s capital was 619 yesterday, up 118 from a week ago. This was the first time in almost four weeks for the daily figure to exceed 600. The rolling average of new cases per day increased from a week ago on June 22 for the first time in almost three weeks, up by 8%.


Tokyo Olympics organizing committee releases guidelines for spectators

Nikkei wrote that the Tokyo Olympics organizing committee issued on Wednesday a set of COVID-19 prevention protocols for spectators to follow. The guidelines urge them to go straight to and from the venues without stopping to eat out on the way and wear masks at all times as well as refrain from drinking alcohol, speaking loudly, giving high-fives, or putting their arms around their neighbors while watching the events. Noncompliance may result in expulsion.

Second Ugandan athlete tests positive for COVID-19

All national dailies reported on the announcement made yesterday by the public health authorities of the city of Izumisano, Osaka, that a Ugandan athlete who is staying in the town along with seven his teammates for an Olympic pre-training camp has tested positive for COVID-19. The athlete reportedly tested negative upon arrival at Narita airport on Saturday. This was the second case in the nine-member team.


Suga did not mention Futenma relocation in video message to Okinawa

Asahi highlighted Prime Minister Suga’s video message sent to Okinawa yesterday in commemoration of the 76th anniversary of the end of the Battle of Okinawa, noting that he did not refer to the FRF construction initiative in Henoko. The premier instead listed his “accomplishments” in reducing Okinawa's base-hosting burden as a cabinet member under the Abe administration, such as the return of some portions of the Northern Training Area and the Futenma housing district. The prerecorded message was shown during a memorial ceremony hosted by the prefectural government at which Governor Tamaki renewed his call for the launch of a three-way framework for dialogue between Okinawa, Tokyo, and Washington on scaling back the U.S. military presence in the island prefecture. The governor also demanded the creation of a new “roadmap” for base realignment and consolidation that does not involve the construction of a new installation off Camp Schwab.

Defense chief criticizes China’s rapid arms buildup

Sankei took up a remote interview arranged by a European thinktank for Defense Minister Kishi yesterday, during which he took issue with China’s massive military spending by describing it as “lacking transparency.” Kishi also raised concern about the PLA’s rapid development and deployment of assets at sea and in the air, urging the audience to consider Beijing’s military buildup not as a matter that only affects one region but as one with global implications.


GOJ to host Pacific islands summit remotely next month

Yomiuri reported that the GOJ plans to organize a videoconference between Prime Minister Suga and the leaders of Pacific island states on July 2. The premier is expected to pledge Japan’s support in such areas as the coronavirus pandemic, sustainable development, climate change, and personnel training. The GOJ will also announce the provision of patrol boats and deployment of SDF warships for port calls in a bid to counter China’s growing presence in the region.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team