Morning Alert   -   Thursday, August 5, 2021
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Broadcasters led with reports on the GOJ’s informal decision to place eight additional prefectures under a quasi-state of emergency (NHK), mounting calls to review the GOJ’s new policy on hospitalization of COVID-19 patients (NTV), 12-year-old Japanese skateboarder Hiraki Kokona’s winning a silver medal in the women's park event at the Tokyo Olympics (TBS), a record 4,166 new COVID-19 cases reported in Tokyo yesterday (Fuji TV), and Japanese wrestler Kawai Yukako’s winning a gold medal in the women’s 62 kilogram freestyle at the Tokyo Olympics (TV Asahi).

Top stories in national dailies included a request from the ruling LDP for the GOJ to review its new policy on hospitalization of COVID-19 patients (Mainichi, Sankei), Japan's record high of over 14,000 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday (Asahi), Toyota Motor’s net profit of 897.8 billion yen ($8.2 billion) for the April-June period, marking a record high for the quarter thanks to sales in North America and China reaching pre-pandemic levels (Nikkei), and the gold and silver medals won by teenage female Japanese skateboarders (Yomiuri).


FM Motegi expresses concern over China’s maritime advancement at East Asia Summit

Yomiuri wrote that the foreign ministers of a total of 18 East Asia Summit nations, including the United States, Japan, China, and ASEAN countries, held an online meeting on Wednesday. Foreign Minister Motegi expressed opposition to China’s attempts to unilaterally change the status quo by force in the South and East China Seas. He also expressed Japan’s grave concern over China’s treatment of Hong Kong and its human rights violations in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Concerning the denuclearization of North Korea, Motegi stressed the need for complete implementation of UN Security Council resolutions on sanctions on Pyongyang. He also called for member states’ cooperation in resolving the abduction issue. The paper speculated that Secretary of State Blinken will likely stress at the meeting the importance of freedom of navigation in the South China Sea to keep China in check.

Mainichi noted that a GOJ source disclosed on Wednesday that Motegi did not refer to the representative of Myanmar as “foreign minister” at the online meeting on Wednesday based on the view that calling him “foreign minister” would indicate Japan’s approval of military rule of the country.

U.S. increases involvement in Southeast Asia

Asahi speculated that the strategic competition between the United States and China over Southeast Asia will likely escalate, as the foreign ministers of both nations participated in an online East Asia Summit meeting held on Wednesday amid China’s concern over the United States’ strategy of increasing its involvement in the region. The paper wrote that a senior State Department official expressed Washington’s willingness to establish relationships of trust with allies and friends in the region by telling reporters on Monday that Secretary of State Blinken will address during talks with his Southeast Asian counterparts China’s “bad behavior that threatens the region,” adding that it would be difficult for the United States to overcome such challenges alone. The paper wrote that the Biden administration is stepping up its engagement with nations in Southeast Asia, as Secretary Blinken is planning to participate in five of the ASEAN-related meetings to be held this week, Secretary of Defense Austin has visited three nations in the region, and Vice President Harris is planning to visit Singapore and other nations in the region later this month.


Japan to place eight additional prefectures under quasi-state of emergency

All national dailies wrote that the GOJ is planning to place an additional eight prefectures—Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma, Shizuoka, Aichi, Shiga, and Kumamoto—under a quasi-state of emergency to combat COVID-19 from Aug. 8 through 31. The GOJ will make a formal decision on the matter today after listening to the opinions of experts. Under the measure, eateries will be asked to close by 8:00 p.m. and not to serve alcohol. Some of these prefectures asked the central government this week to place them under a quasi-state of emergency in response to the rapid rise of infections.

Ruling parties call on GOJ to review new hospitalization policy for COVID-19 patients

All national dailies wrote that an LDP task force on COVID-19 decided on Wednesday to ask the GOJ to review its new policy to ask COVID-19 patients with mild or moderate symptoms to recuperate at home instead of being admitted to hospitals to prevent a shortage of hospital beds. The ruling coalition partner Komeito Party is also set to ask the GOJ to reconsider the new policy. However, Prime Minister Suga dismissed the idea of retracting the decision by telling reporters that the measure will only apply to Tokyo and other areas experiencing a rapid resurgence of infections and will not uniformly apply to the entire country. The premier added that the measure is aimed at making medical care available for those who in urgent need of it. Health Minister Tamura stated at a Lower House hearing on Wednesday that patients with moderate symptoms will be admitted to hospitals if they need breathing support.

At the same Diet session, Omi Shigeru, the government's top COVID-19 adviser, said that he had not been consulted in advance about the government's policy change. He added that it is necessary for the government to discuss the possibility of expanding the state of emergency to cover the entire nation.

About 80% of elderly people in Japan fully vaccinated against COVID-19

All national dailies wrote that Prime Minister Suga said at a meeting on Wednesday of cabinet ministers involved in the government response to COVID-19 that the GOJ has almost reached its goal of completing the vaccination of people aged 65 and older by the end of July as about 80% of them had already received two doses of vaccine as of Wednesday. According to the GOJ, 31.5% of the entire population in Japan have received their second shots. The premier said the number of new COVID-19 cases among the elderly has drastically dropped to 2-3% of all new cases thanks to progress in vaccinating people in this age group. Suga stressed that the government is now promoting the vaccination of people in their 40s and 50s, many of whom tend to develop severe symptoms, and young people, adding that the government has set a goal of completing the vaccination of at least 40% of the entire population by the end of August.


First COVID-19 cluster infection at athletes’ village

All national dailies wrote that the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic organizing committee said on Wednesday that four of the 12 members of the Greek artistic swimming team and one of its officials have tested positive for COVID-19. The committee said this is the first cluster infection at the athletes’ village. The entire team and staff have left the village and relocated to isolation facilities. Greece said it will withdraw from the artistic swimming competitions in Tokyo. On Wednesday the organizing committee reported 29 new COVID-19 cases, including the four Greek artistic swimmers, associated with the Olympics, bringing the cumulative total to 322.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team