Morning Alert   -   Friday, August 6, 2021
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NHK led with reports on the 76th anniversary of the atomic bombing in Hiroshima. Commercial networks led with reports on Typhoon Mirinae, which is expected to hit the Tokai and Kanto regions during the upcoming three-day holiday (NTV), Kawai Risako’s winning a gold medal in women’s 57 kilogram wrestling at the Tokyo Olympics yesterday (TBS), and the number of COVID-19 cases topping 5,000 for the first time in Tokyo yesterday (Fuji TV). TV Asahi’s morning news program was preempted by coverage of the Tokyo Olympics.

Most papers led with reports on the GOJ’s new policy on COVID-19 hospitalization. Nikkei’s top item was global manufacturers’ growing reliance on Chinese IT technology and components despite calls for a review of supply chains in China.


GOJ clarifies new policy on COVID-19 hospitalization

All national papers highlighted remarks made at the Diet yesterday by Health Minister Tamura, who commented on the GOJ’s policy shift on hospitalization for people infected with the novel coronavirus. “In principle, those who have moderate symptoms will be hospitalized,” the cabinet minister was quoted as saying. “But people who are not at a high risk of becoming seriously ill will isolate at home.” The dailies interpreted the remarks to mean that the Suga administration has toned down its original position of only admitting seriously ill patients to hospitals in the face of strong criticism from not only the opposition bloc, the medical community, and local governments but also the ruling coalition that even people suffering from moderate symptoms will be barred from receiving treatment at hospitals. On Thursday, the Health Ministry reportedly updated its instructions for prefectural governments, specifying that the new hospitalization guidelines will only apply to Tokyo and other “hot spots” where the epidemic curve is rising.

The papers said the administration was forced to modify its new policy on hospitalization only a few days later after it was announced on account of its failure to coordinate closely with the ruling coalition and medical professionals. Health Minister Tamura admitted at the parliament yesterday that the ministry had not even consulted with coronavirus taskforce subcommittee Chairman Omi about the new hospitalization policy and apologized for failing to communicate closely with the leading physician and the ruling coalition. Nikkei said this is the third time the administration has shifted course on COVID-related policies in response to complaints from the ruling party as it previously ended up retracting its instructions for banks not to offer loans to eateries who refused to obey the ban on serving alcohol and then nixing its plan to reduce Moderna vaccine shipments to certain municipalities. Sankei wrote the LDP is desperate to strengthen its coronavirus policy coordination with the Suga administration ahead of the general election in the autumn amid the public’s continued disapproval of the GOJ’s response to the pandemic.

Eight additional prefectures to be placed under quasi-state of emergency

All national dailies wrote that the GOJ officially decided yesterday to declare a COVID-19 quasi-state of emergency for Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma, Shizuoka, Aichi, and three other prefectures from Sunday through Aug. 31, bringing the total number of prefectures subject to the measures to 13. In authorizing the quasi-state of emergency declaration earlier in the day, some members of the coronavirus taskforce subcommittee reportedly called for the entire nation to be placed under a state of emergency because of the extremely rapid spread of the Delta variant not only in metropolitan areas but also in rural prefectures. However, during a press gaggle last night, Prime Minister Suga, while admitting that the virus is spreading at an “unprecedented rate” in many parts of the country, dismissed the possibility of a nationwide state of emergency.

Meanwhile, the nationwide tally of COVID-19 cases on Thursday hit a record high of 15,263. Seven prefectures reported record numbers of new cases, including Tokyo (5,042), Kanagawa (1,846), Saitama (1,235) and Chiba (942). Close to 70% of the Tokyoites who tested positive were in their 30s or younger.

Advisory panel says Tokyo may see 10,000 COVID cases per day later this month

All national papers took up a projection made on Thursday by a heath advisory panel for the Tokyo Metropolitan Government that the daily tally of new coronavirus cases in the nation’s capital could exceed 10,000 in about two weeks if the current upward trajectory continues. This would mean that one out of every 1,000 Tokyoites would get infected each day. The seven-day rolling average of new cases was 3,443 as of Aug. 4, up 178% from a week ago. Since only 11% of those infected with COVID-19 were hospitalized as of Aug. 4, almost 15,000 of them were forced to isolate at home. The public health experts reportedly underscored that Tokyo’s healthcare system needs to be prepared for an emergency situation in light of the considerable strain being placed on hospitals and medical workers amid the exponential surge in infections.

In a related story, Asahi said many hospitals in Tokyo and its neighboring prefectures are beginning to curtail medical services for non-COVID patients, noting that some intensive care units have been closed and nonessential surgeries have been postponed so as to concentrate medical resources on treating the rapidly increasing number of seriously ill coronavirus patients.

Leading public health expert mentions need to discuss legislation on lockdown

All national dailies reported on press remarks made on Thursday by Chairman Omi of the GOJ coronavirus taskforce subcommittee, who said that it may become necessary to start discussions for introducing legislation on a city lockdown if the current prevention and mitigation measures fail to rein in the explosive increase in COVID-19 infections. He voiced frustration that some people apparently do not share the public health experts’ “sense of crisis” about the ongoing fifth wave triggered by the Delta strain, lamenting that a state of emergency may “no longer be able to deliver the intended results.” While the National Governors Association has also called for legislation on lockdowns, Prime Minister Suga has indicated that such legislation is not appropriate for Japan.

80% reported fevers after receiving second dose of Moderna vaccine

Asahi reported on the revelation by a Health Ministry panel on Thursday that almost 80% of people who received the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine reported fevers of 37.5 degrees Celsius (99.5°F ) or higher after receiving the second dose.

Number of COVID-19 infections among Olympic stakeholders exceeds 350

Asahi and Yomiuri reported on the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee announcement on Thursday that an additional 31 people connected to the Olympics tested positive for the novel coronavirus, bringing the total tally of cases within the Olympic community to 353 since July 1.


Defense Ministry decides against mounting U.S. missiles on updated fighter jets

According to all national papers, the Defense Ministry announced yesterday its decision not to go ahead with a plan to equip ASDF F-15s with U.S.-made air-to-ship missiles for cost reasons. In upgrading the fighter jets to enhance their island defense capabilities, the ministry had hoped to mount LRASM standoff missiles on the aircraft at a cost of 324 billion yen ($2.95 billion). However, the U.S. side had presented a much higher cost estimate for the refurbishment and the missiles of about 552 billion yen ($5.03 billion). While the U.S. side reportedly agreed in the end to lower the estimate to some 398 billion ($3.63 billion) in response to Japan’s lobbying, the reduction was not enough for Tokyo to move ahead with the planned procurement of the U.S. missiles. Although the ministry will move ahead with the fighter jet upgrade in and of itself, it is likely to develop domestic standoff missiles in lieu of introducing the U.S. model.


Japan hesitant to reopen border even to vaccinated foreigners

Nikkei reported on the Biden administration’s alleged moves to mandate all foreign visitors to be vaccinated against COVID-19, noting that Japan does not plan to ease its 14-day quarantine requirement even for vaccinated visitors due to opposition from the Health Ministry, which is reportedly concerned about breakthrough infections. The daily also said LDP and opposition lawmakers are cautious about relaxing infection prevention protocols at the border ahead of the general election in the autumn. With regard to the U.S.’s alleged vaccination requirement for visitors, Japanese companies are worried that their employees who choose to receive vaccines not authorized by U.S. health authorities may be barred from entering the U.S.

MOFA calls on ROK not to livestream video of Takeshima online

NHK reported on Thursday that South Korea's Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries announced earlier in the day that it will start providing real-time video images of the disputed Takeshima/Dokdo Islands on an ROK government website starting today with the aim of increasing people’s interest in the outcrops. The network said MOFA Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau chief Funakoshi lodged a protest with the South Korean Embassy in Tokyo on Thursday afternoon, stressing that the islands are “an inherent part of Japan's territory in terms of history and international law” and that South Korea’s latest move is “totally unacceptable and extremely regrettable.” Funakoshi also reportedly urged South Korea to cancel the live-streaming project.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team