Morning Alert   -   Tuesday, August 3, 2021
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Broadcasters led with reports on the government's new policy to have all COVID-19 patients who are not seriously ill stay home in order to secure enough hospital beds for the seriously ill (NHK), the finding that a man in his 20s in Tokyo who had received two doses of COVID-19 vaccine tested positive for the Delta variant (NTV), Murakami Mai winning the bronze medal in the women’s floor exercise at the Tokyo Olympics, becoming the first female Japanese gymnast to finish on the podium in an individual event (TBS, Fuji TV), and Samurai Japan’s win against the U.S. national baseball team in the quarter-finals on Monday (TV Asahi).

Main front-page stories in national papers included the GOJ’s new policy on COVID-19 hospitalization, the status of coronavirus vaccination programs for the elderly, and Japanese Olympic athletes’ performance on Monday.


GOJ changes policy on hospitalization of COVID-19 patients

All national dailies reported extensively on a GOJ decision yesterday to ask the authorities in prefectures where the coronavirus is raging not to hospitalize COVID-19 patients with moderate or mild symptoms to prevent hospital beds from running out as new cases surge. While most of these patients will be asked to stay home, a limited number of them, such as those with a high risk of transmitting the virus at home, will be isolated at designated hotels. Since all coronavirus patients were required to be admitted to hospitals under the previous public health regulations, the decision marks a major policy turnaround. The GOJ reportedly had no choice but to change course in the face of the looming possibility of the collapse of the healthcare system in certain prefectures. In order to enhance the monitoring of patients’ health conditions at home, the GOJ plans to take measures such as offering them telemedicine services and pulse oximeters. Some doctors and local public health center officials have reportedly expressed concern that they will be held responsible for swiftly and accurately determining whether patients are suffering from serious or moderate symptoms.

Epidemic curve shows no sign of flattening

Nikkei reported on the skyrocketing number of coronavirus cases in Tokyo and elsewhere, noting that since the effective reproduction rate in the nation’s capital was 1.41 as of the end of July, the daily caseload may increase to 10,000 by the end of August if the present trend continues. As smartphone tracking data indicates that people’s mobility has not declined substantially even under the state of emergency, the paper expressed alarm that more people will be infected with the highly contagious Delta variant.

In related stories, Nikkei, Mainichi, and Sankei wrote that many people have no intention to change their summer travel plans despite public authorities’ repeated calls not to travel beyond prefectural borders, noting that train, airline, and hotel reservation rates are relatively high for the upcoming Obon holidays. The dailies published various anecdotes showing that some people are displeased with the authorities’ renewed calls for people to stay home even though the Olympics Games are being held in Tokyo and do not plan to heed them.

Government spokesman dismisses feasibility of lockdown

Mainichi took up remarks made to the press on Monday by Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato regarding the possibility of a lockdown to flatten the COVID-19 epidemic curve. “We are not at liberty to take compulsory measures associated with legal punishments as seen overseas.” he was quoted as saying. “Such measures would curtail civil liberties significantly. There are issues that would need to be addressed, including how to ensure the effectiveness of punishment.” The top government spokesperson made the comment in response to growing calls from the National Governors’ Association and some LDP politicians for legislation authorizing a lockdown.

GOJ official comments on possibility of administering booster shots

According to Mainichi, Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato told the press yesterday that the GOJ will look into the possibility of administering booster shots for people who have already received two doses of COVID-19 vaccine by collecting and analyzing information and data at home and abroad, including the views of pharmaceutical companies and results of clinical tests.


MOD seeks rescindment of Okinawa’s revocation of permit for coral reef transplantation

All national papers wrote that the Defense Ministry filed a petition with the agriculture minister on Monday asking him to rescind the administrative decision made by Okinawa Governor Tamaki to withdraw the permit for the Okinawa Defense Bureau to transplant coral reefs off Camp Schwab on the grounds that the transplantation did not comply with the agreed upon condition that the coral not be moved when the water temperature was high. “There was no reason for the permit to be revoked since the operation was carried out properly while paying due attention to the conservation of coral reefs,” Defense Minister Kishi said to the press. “The revocation violated the Administrative Procedures Act since it was done without holding a hearing.” The governor justified the action by telling journalists yesterday: “The revocation was necessary to safeguard and cultivate marine resources and was in line with relevant statutes.”

Nago mayoral race to be held next January

Yomiuri reported that the Nago municipal election authorities formally decided yesterday to hold a mayoral race on Jan. 23 next year, projecting that the FRF construction initiative will likely be a key campaign issue. Incumbent Mayor Toguchi, who is supported by the LDP and the Komeito party, will probably face off with municipal assembly member Kishimoto, who is backed by Governor Tamaki.

Missile unit to be deployed on Ishigaki Island

According to Yomiuri, the Defense Ministry has decided to station a GSDF missile regiment on Ishigaki Island, Okinawa, by the end of FY2022 as part of its efforts to beef up the defense of the Nansei Islands against potential Chinese aggression. Some 500 to 600 personnel will be deployed on the island to operate ground-to-ship and ground-to-air missiles, and barracks, an ammunition depot, and a training range will be constructed there.

German warship sets sail for Indo-Pacific

Yomiuri wrote from Berlin that the German frigate Bayern departed for the Indo-Pacific on Monday, noting that the deployment represents Germany’s commitment to increasing its military engagement with the region where China’s presence is growing rapidly. During the months-long voyage that will run through February next year, the frigate is expected to call at ports in Japan, Australia, and elsewhere. The German defense minister issued a statement on the mission saying that his country supports compliance with rules, freedom of navigation, an open society, and rules-based fair trade.


Japan to tighten border control for visitors from 3 U.S. states and several nations

Kyodo News reported that the GOJ said on Monday it will tighten border controls for travelers from three U.S. states, Finland, and some other areas in response to the spread of highly contagious variants of the novel coronavirus. Kyodo wrote that in a set of changes to border control measures taking effect Thursday, those arriving from Indiana, Kansas, and Texas, as well as Finland, will be asked to stay in government-designated facilities for three days after arrival and undergo additional virus tests on the third day. The same measure will reportedly be applied to travelers from Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Georgia, Luxembourg, and five Russian oblasts including Astrakhan.

Senior Japanese, Russian diplomats hold teleconference

Mainichi wrote that Deputy Foreign Minister Yamada and his Russian counterpart Morgulov spoke by phone on Monday and agreed to explore the possibility of arranging an in-person summit between Prime Minister Suga and President Putin while taking into account the status of the coronavirus pandemic. The Japanese official reportedly lodged a protest over Russian Prime Minister Mishustin’s recent visit to the Northern Territories.


Belarusian athlete to defect to Poland

All national dailies reported that a Belarusian sprinter taking part in the Tokyo Olympics who has refused to go home in defiance of an order from her own coach was granted a visa by the Polish government on Monday. Her custody was transferred to the Polish Embassy in Tokyo. She is reportedly seeking asylum on the grounds that she would be thrown into jail if she returned to Belarus.

Asahi said the athlete apparently chose to abandon her home country to escape from President Lukashenko’s iron-fisted rule, saying that the dictator has taken a high-handed approach even toward Olympic athletes in his own country. Since the U.S. and the Europeans are supportive of the sprinter, the daily projected that the matter may develop into a diplomatic hot potato.


Suga administration hopes Japanese Olympians’ stellar performance will boost cabinet support

Sankei reported that senior ruling LDP and Suga administration officials have been actively issuing congratulatory messages to Japanese athletes who have won Olympic medals in a bid to help boost public support for the Suga cabinet. These politicians are hoping that Japanese Olympians’ superb performance will offset the media’s negative coverage of the administration’s response to the ongoing fifth wave of the novel coronavirus since cabinet approval ratings have largely been influenced in the past 18 months by the status of the pandemic. Ruling party officials reportedly project that cabinet support rates after the conclusion of the Games and the pace of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout will determine when Prime Minister Suga will dissolve the Lower House for a snap election.


IAEA calls Japan’s monitoring of waters off Fukushima “appropriate”

Sankei took up the MOFA announcement on Monday that the IAEA has concluded that the surveys of water and fisheries conducted by the GOJ in collaboration with several private research institutions off the coast of Fukushima Daichi Nuclear Power Plant between 2017 and 2020 were “appropriate.” The daily said that the key international entity’s endorsement of the reliability of Japan’s analysis flies in the face of the prolonged bans on Fukushima seafood imposed by South Korea and China.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team