Morning Alert   -   Tuesday, August 10, 2021
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Broadcasters led with reports on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s release of its first global warming report in eight years, which warns that even if global greenhouse emissions are reduced to net zero by around 2050, there is more than a 50% chance that the average global temperature rise since pre-industrial times will cross the 1.5-degree mark by 2040 (NHK), the growing number of COVID-19 patients recuperating at home (NTV), the number of new COVID-19 cases in Japan topping 10,000 for the first time on a Monday (TBS), the rise of Sumida River in Tokyo due to the extratropical cyclone (Fuji TV), and about 10,000 Olympic athletes leaving Japan yesterday (TV Asahi).

Top items in national papers included a report on alleged breaches of the “Olympic bubble” and other stories about the Tokyo Olympics, the 76th anniversary of the atomic bombing in Nagasaki yesterday, and the IPCC’s projection for the rise in global temperature.


Cabinet approval declines

Yomiuri front-paged the results of its latest public opinion survey that put support for the Suga administration at a new low of 35%, down 2 points from a month ago, and nonsupport at 54%, up 1 point. Some 64% said they were pleased that the Olympics were held, while 28% said otherwise. However, 55% felt the Games were “not safe and secure.” Only about 31% approved of the GOJ’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. The daily added that support for the prime minister waned even among self-proclaimed LDP supporters, adding that support for the ruling party has also been declining. Some 66% of respondents said Suga should resign immediately or when his term as LDP leader expires in September.

Olympics fail to boost Suga’s political standing

Yomiuri wrote that Prime Minister Suga’s calculus that the Tokyo Olympics would help boost his dwindling public support apparently proved wrong in the face of the skyrocketing resurgence of the novel coronavirus. On the 35% cabinet approval rating, an unnamed cabinet member said: “The figure would have been much lower if the Olympics had been canceled,” while another cabinet minister forecast that support for Suga will drop further as people shift their focus from the Olympics to the COVID-19 situation. Claiming that the prime minister had envisioned dissolving the Lower House in mid-September for a snap election in October after concluding the Paralympics successfully on Sept. 5 so as to ensure that he can be reelected as LDP president, the daily conjectured that the premier and his aides are now looking to postpone the general election and the LDP presidential race to ensure that the administration can weather the current fifth wave of COVID-19 by speeding up the vaccination process. The paper added that if former cabinet member Okonogi Hachiro, one of Suga’s confidants, is not able to win the Yokohama mayoral race on Aug. 22, calls may emerge within the ruling party for ousting the premier ahead of the general election.

Asahi ran a similar story, quoting Suga as telling his associates in late July: “I completely miscalculated. I didn’t expect the Delta variant to be this transmissible.” He allegedly made the comment when the Tokyo Metropolitan Government reported 4,058 cases on July 31. While Japanese athletes’ stellar performance led to the best possible outcome for the Games, this was completely offset by the COVID-19 situation, which proved to be the worst-case scenario for the administration. The article added that an increasing number of LDP politicians are complaining about Suga’s leadership, with one of them saying: “The public is fed up with the prime minister.”


GOJ may downgrade COVID-19 to same level as seasonal flu

Sankei front-paged a report claiming that the Health Ministry is mulling downgrading the novel coronavirus to a disease that warrants medical response equivalent to seasonal flu in view of the opinion of some medical professionals that the current classification of COVID-19 as a quasi-Type II disease, which is equal to SARS and tuberculosis, is too severe and has resulted in a shortage of medical resources. These experts argue that by reclassifying COVID-19, patients will be able to be treated at regular hospitals and clinics instead of only designated medical institutions and the strain on the existing healthcare capacities can be reduced considerably because the labor-intensive, time-consuming contact tracing and mandatory hospitalization will become unnecessary. Others insist, however, that reclassification at this juncture is premature and advise that it should only be done after the vaccination program and development of medicines are complete.

GOJ to consider administering booster shots

Sankei predicted that the GOJ is set to look into the possibility of administering COVID-19 booster shots to fully vaccinated people next year in view of the rapid spread of the Delta strain. The GOJ has secured 50 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine for delivery next year and is negotiating with Takeda Pharmaceutical for the delivery of 150 million doses of the Novavax product. As some physicians are concerned about the possibility of serious side effects from a third dose, the Health Ministry will carefully study the results of the booster shot programs that have already begun in Israel and will commence shortly in Germany and the UK in order to ascertain their safety and effectiveness.

Suga urges people not to travel during Obon holidays

Nikkei and Sankei highlighted Prime Minister Suga’s press remarks on Monday calling for people to avoid nonessential travel and stay home this week so as to flatten the COVID-19 epidemic curve expeditiously. “The Obon holidays start this week. This is an extremely important period amid the unprecedented spread of the virus. We want people to avoid traveling to their hometowns and taking other trips as much as possible.”


Suga comments on Tokyo Olympics

Mainichi and Nikkei reported on remarks made to the press yesterday by Prime Minister Suga, who commented on the conclusion of the Tokyo Olympics by saying: “We were able to fulfill our obligations as a host nation and safely conclude the Games that were held under various restrictions. This was possible thanks to understanding and support of the Japanese people. I am truly grateful.”

Paralympics likely to be held without spectators

Sankei wrote that the Suga administration is shifting its focus from the Olympics to concentrate on opening a “safe and secure” Paralympics on Aug. 24, speculating that allowing spectators to attend the Games will probably be difficult amid the fifth wave of COVID-19. As Prime Minister Suga is still keen to accommodate some spectators, the organizers are reportedly considering allowing elementary and middle school students to watch the events live at selected venues. Many Paralympians are also reportedly calling for spectators to be allowed in the belief that witnessing their performance firsthand will give people the opportunity to learn what people with disabilities can accomplish.


Former USG officials call for Japan to embrace no first use of nuclear weapons

Mainichi and Asahi reported on a finding that a group of former senior USG officials, including former Secretary of Defense Perry, has sent an open letter to Prime Minister Suga and the leaders of the major political parties asking them not to oppose the Biden administration’s possible adoption of a nuclear “no first use” policy. According to the articles, President Biden is also reportedly considering declaring in the ongoing nuclear posture review that the “sole purpose” of U.S. nuclear forces is to deter or defeat adversaries’ use of nuclear weapons. The signatories reportedly explained in the letter that such declarations by the President will not have an adverse effect on the U.S. defense commitment to its allies, including extended deterrence. They added that it would be tragic if Japan were to thwart what they called a “small yet important step toward nuclear abolition.”


Japan to recognize Myanmar athlete as refugee

Yomiuri said the Japanese immigration authorities are likely to recognize as a refugee a Myanmar (Burmese) soccer player who refused to go home when visiting Japan in May to participate in a World Cup game. The athlete reportedly displayed a three-finger salute during the opening ceremony of a match against Japan on May 28 in protest of the coup staged by the Myanmar military. The 27-year-old player sought Japan’s protection at the Kansai International Airport on June 16 by claiming that he would be persecuted if he returned to his home country. The Japanese authorities have allegedly decided that granting him refugee status is appropriate given that his concern about potential persecution by the military regime is legitimate.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team