Morning Alert   -   Thursday, July 15, 2021
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Broadcasters led with reports on the 1,149 new cases of COVID-19 confirmed in Tokyo on Wednesday, exceeding the peak of the fourth wave in May (NHK, NTV, TBS, Fuji TV) and Ohtani Shohei becoming the first two-way MLB All-Star player (TV Asahi).

Top stories in national papers included Prime Minister Suga’s apology over the administration’s controversial requests for financial institutions to help enforce a ban on eateries serving alcohol and for wholesalers to stop selling alcohol to drinking establishments; a Hiroshima High Court’s ruling on Wednesday that 84 local people are eligible to receive state healthcare benefits related to the atomic bombing; the EU’s moves to prohibit the sale of gasoline-fueled vehicles in 2035; Empress Masako’s plan not to attend the opening ceremony of Tokyo Olympics; and a Health and Labor Ministry panel’s decision to raise the minimum wage by 28 yen to 930 yen per hour.


Government spokesperson comments on First Lady’s participation in Olympic Games

Mainichi and Sankei took up remarks made to the press yesterday by Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato regarding First Lady Jill Biden’s plan to attend the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics. “As the visit reflects the U.S.’s attachment of importance to the Games, we will welcome her wholeheartedly,” the official said, adding that arrangements are underway for Dr. Biden to meet with Prime Minister Suga.

Empress unlikely to attend Olympics opening ceremony

Sankei asserted in its lead story that Emperor Naruhito probably will not be accompanied by Empress Masako when he attends the Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony on July 23 as an “honorary patron” because the organizing committee is aiming to reduce the number of participants to the bare minimum through such measures as prohibiting spouses from attending. The Emperor is due to declare the Olympics open at the ceremony. Neither the Emperor nor the Empress are likely to visit any of the event venues on account of a ban on domestic spectators. The imperial couple is expected to host foreign dignitaries for brief greetings on July 22.

The daily claimed in a separate article that the organizing committee has successfully reduced the number of IOC officials, foreign dignitaries, and other stakeholders who will be allowed to attend the opening ceremony from the initial 10,000 to several hundred. Some of the projected participants, including corporate sponsors, reportedly volunteered not to attend the event following the decision not to allow domestic spectators.

IOC leader meets with Suga

All national dailies wrote that International Olympic Committee President Bach paid a courtesy call on Prime Minister Suga on Wednesday and promised that foreign athletes and officials will “not bring any risk to Japan.” He voiced gratitude for Japan’s efforts to make the Tokyo Games a “historic event” by saying: “The Games became possible thanks to every single Japanese citizen’s diligent compliance with strict rules.” Suga said in reply that he would like to make the international sporting event amid the pandemic an opportunity for humankind to unite and overcome adversity through “efforts and wisdom


U.S. warns companies not to do business in Xinjiang

All national papers highlighted a “strong warning” issued by the Biden administration on Wednesday against American and international companies operating or doing business in China’s Xinjiang province, quoting the “Xinjiang Supply Chain Business Advisory” as saying that such firms “could run a high risk of violating U.S. law.” The papers said while some Japanese corporations have already scaled back their investments in the region in response to calls from Washington to do so in the past, others are perplexed by the fresh warning since their supply chains are so complex that it will be difficult for them to check whether any materials they procure originate in Xinjiang. They are also reportedly concerned that suspending transactions with Xinjiang partners will prompt Chinese people to boycott their products.

Senior U.S. diplomat to visit China next week

Mainichi and Nikkei highlighted an article published by the South China Morning Post that Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman may visit China next week and meet with Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng in Tianjin to look into the possibility of arranging a session between Secretary Blinken and Foreign Minister Wang.

Top LDP official holds talks with ROK politicians

Yomiuri, Sankei, and Mainichi took up a meeting held yesterday in Tokyo between LDP Secretary General Nikai and a group of South Korean lawmakers at which the LDP official reportedly called for President Moon to visit Japan for the opening of the Tokyo Olympics next week. The Korean visitors reportedly stated in reply that the president’s trip is “under consideration.” Mainichi added that the Japanese side is cautious about South Korea’s insistence that Japan arrange a full-scale summit between Moon and Prime Minister Suga if Moon visits Japan.


Tokyo reportedly in the midst of fifth wave of COVID-19

All national papers reported extensively on the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s announcement yesterday that a total of 1,149 people tested positive for COVID-19, noting that this was the first time in almost two months for the number of daily cases to top 1,000. The figure exceeded the peak reached during the fourth wave in the spring, which was 1,121 on May 8. The seven-day rolling average of new cases in Tokyo as of yesterday was 823.3, up 30.3% from the preceding week. The occupancy rate of hospital beds for seriously ill patients had climbed to 43% as of July 12 even though the corresponding figure was below 30% in late June. Many of the patients requiring hospitalization are in their 50s.

Infections are also rising in other parts of the country, including Osaka, with daily cases amounting to 3,194 nationwide on Wednesday. This was the first time in more than six weeks for the daily tally to exceed 3,000. A total of 349 people tested positive in Osaka, the highest level since May 27. A Health Ministry advisory board of public health professionals reportedly expressed deep concern yesterday that the “notable resurgence” in the Tokyo metropolitan area may trigger a rapid spread of the virus across Japan. The papers noted that many patients and virus carriers nowadays are in their 20s and 30s and are not vaccinated, adding that the epidemic curve in the fifth wave is rising faster than the previous waves probably due to the highly transmissible Delta strain.

Half of elderly people fully vaccinated against COVID-19

Nikkei wrote that according to government data, slightly over 50% of Japanese people aged 65 or older had received two doses of COVID-19 vaccine as of July 13 and close to 79% had received at least one.

Some 50 Japanese repatriated from Indonesia due to COVID-19 outbreak

All national papers wrote that about 50 Japanese businessmen and their dependents returned home yesterday on a chartered plane from Indonesia, where the Delta variant of COVID-19 is raging. As least 330 Japanese citizens had tested positive for the virus there as of July 14, with 14 of them having reportedly died of the virus.


U.S. military plans to discharge wastewater into Okinawa sewers

Wednesday evening’s Asahi reported on the U.S. military’s intention to release wastewater contaminated with toxic PFOS into sewers at MCAS Futenma after diluting the density of the hazardous material to a “level equivalent to drinking water.” While such water has customarily been treated by local contractors up until now, the military authorities are reportedly hoping to discharge it into sewers this time due to cost considerations. The prefectural government is calling for the plan to be postponed until its safety is confirmed. The paper added, however, that there are no local ordinances capable of blocking the plan.

Suga voices appreciation for local people’s support for base operations at Iwakuni

Mainichi wrote that during his meeting with Yamaguchi Governor Muraoka and Iwakuni Mayor Fukuda at the Kantei on Wednesday, Prime Minister Suga thanked the local people for their support and understanding for hosting U.S. troops at MCAS Iwakuni. The premier reportedly pledged the central government’s commitment to extending to the local governments financial support related to U.S. force realignment in FY2022 and beyond.


Suga administration suffers another setback due to controversial requests on alcohol ban

All national papers reported extensively that Prime Minister Suga apologized on Wednesday for the administration’s requests, later retracted, for banks to help enforce a ban on eateries serving alcohol and for wholesalers to stop selling alcohol to drinking establishments. While Economic and Fiscal Minister Nishimura has been blamed for proposing the controversial requests, the opposition bloc is stepping up its criticism of the premier by saying he had effectively condoned them. Mainichi claimed that the administration is desperate to hold Nishimura solely responsible so as to protect the prime minister. The dailies added that the latest stir is bound to further weaken the administration’s political foundation, which has already been hit hard over the Tokyo Olympics and the reinstatement of the COVID-19 state of emergency.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team