Morning Alert   -   Wednesday, August 11, 2021
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Broadcasters led with reports on the recent surge in the number of COVID-19 patients recuperating at home in Tokyo (NHK), Minister Nishimura’s call on the public to refrain from traveling back to their hometowns during the Obon holidays (NTV), the number of seriously ill COVID-19 patients in Tokyo hitting a record high of 176 (TBS), the extreme heat in the Tokyo area yesterday (Fuji TV), and criminal charges filed with regard to dangerous jet skiing along the coast of Akashi, Hyogo (TV Asahi).

Top items in national papers included the Suga administration’s plan to allow students to attend Tokyo Paralympics events, the Taliban’s latest military offensive in Afghanistan, the Immigration Services Agency’s release of a final report on the death of a Sri Lankan woman at a detention center in Nagoya in March, and GOJ moves to step up legal protection of freelancers by mandating ordering agents sign detailed contracts.


Cabinet support rates hit new low despite “successful” Olympics

Nikkei reported on the results of the latest public opinion polls conducted over the weekend by NHK, TBS, Asahi, and Yomiuri, all of which showed that cabinet approval has dropped to a new low of around 30%. The paper noted that although some 60% of respondents said they were glad that the Tokyo Olympics were held, the international sporting event turned out not to be the “rocket booster” of public support that Prime Minister Suga and other senior GOJ officials had hoped it would be. The daily attributed the continued rise in cabinet disapproval to the public’s strong dissatisfaction with the administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Okonogi enjoying lead in Yokohama mayoral race

Asahi claimed that based on its public opinion poll and a field survey conducted over the weekend in Yokohama, former Chairperson of the National Public Safety Commission Okonogi Hachiro is commanding a slight lead over the seven other candidates in the campaign for the mayoral election to be held on Aug. 22. However, former college professor Yamanaka Takeharu, backed by the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and other opposition parties, and incumbent Mayor Hayashi Fumiko are hot on his heels. Unaffiliated voters are reportedly equally split among the three candidates. With regard to the mayor’s bid to host a casino, a major campaign issue, only 20% of local voters were in favor of the idea, while 60% were opposed to it. Some 40% of those opposed to the idea said they would vote for Okonogi, who is supported by Prime Minister Suga, while 30% said Yamanaka is their favorite. About half of those who say they support the Suga cabinet, approximately 30% of the electorate, said they would vote for Okonogi.


University hospitals under severe strain due to COVID-19 resurgence

All national papers except Asahi took up the disclosure by an association of university hospitals on Tuesday that some 35% of the 78 university hospitals nationwide are currently being forced to reduce the number of patients in their intensive care units since a growing portion of their medical resources are being taken up with treating COVID-19 patients. Almost 20% of the hospitals said they have turned down requests to accommodate outpatients that need emergency care. Some 16 of them have canceled or postponed nonessential surgeries. A spokesperson of the association called for the public to comply with prevention protocols and stay home to ensure the viability of the medical system in treating diseases other than COVID-19.

Herd immunity against COVID-19 still elusive in Japan

Nikkei reported on a growing consensus in the medical community that vaccinating 70% of the population against COVID-19 will probably not be enough to establish herd immunity in view of the rapid spread of the highly contagious Delta variant. Most public health professionals now believe eight or nine out of ten people will need to be inoculated to ensure that a significant portion of the population becomes immune to the virus. Because 90% of the people aged 12 or higher who are currently eligible to receive the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine will need to be vaccinated to achieve an overall 80% immunization rate, the experts insist that achieving the goal will not be easy and that various incentives and campaigns must be devised to encourage hesitant people to get vaccinated.

AstraZeneca vaccine to be delivered to six prefectures

All national papers highlighted the disclosure by Administrative Reform Minister Kono yesterday that some 53,000 doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine will be delivered to Tokyo, Chiba, Osaka, Saitama, Kanagawa, and Okinawa next week in response to their requests. As the central government has secured 2 million doses of the UK product for delivery in August and September, the cabinet member said the remaining doses may be distributed to other prefectures currently under a quasi-state of emergency on request.


Second Gentleman to attend opening ceremony of Paralympics

Yomiuri and Kyodo reported on the White House announcement on Tuesday that Vice President Harris’s husband Douglas Emhoff will represent the U.S. delegation at the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Paralympics on Aug. 24, noting that the dispatch of the Second Gentleman signifies the U.S. administration’s attachment of importance to the trans-Pacific alliance.

GOJ eager to allow students to watch Paralympics live at event venues

Sankei wrote in its lead story that the GOJ and the Tokyo Paralympics organizing committee are likely to decide this weekend whether to allow spectators at the Games, speculating that although the general public is likely to be prohibited from attending, the Suga administration is looking to allow primary, middle, and high school students to watch the events live at various venues. The GOJ has already reached out to education board authorities in Tokyo and the three neighboring prefectures that will host the Paralympics in order to learn whether local schools are interested in having their students attend some of the events. While noting that the coronavirus situation has been worsening day by day in the Tokyo metropolitan area, the daily conjectured that the governors of the four prefectures will have the final say on student programs for the Paralympics.

Paralympics torch relay to be canceled

All national papers wrote that the Tokyo metropolitan government decided yesterday to call off the entire portion of Tokyo Paralympics torch relay on public roads on account of the deteriorating COVID-19 situation. Saitama and Chiba have already decided to cancel their portions for the same reason.


U.S., Japan, UK, Australia hold joint training

Sankei published a Kyodo report from Washington quoting DOD Spokesperson Kirby as disclosing that troops from U.S. Indo-Pacific Command are participating in large-scale joint training with the Japanese, the UK, and Australian militaries from Aug. 2 through 27. The exercise is apparently intended to showcase the four-way partnership to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific with China in mind.

Finance minister supports increase in defense budget

Nikkei focused on remarks made to the press on Tuesday by Finance Minister Aso, who underscored that he supports the continued uptick in Japan’s defense expenditure for FY2022 and beyond. In reference to China’s rapid military buildup, the cabinet official was quoted as saying: “Defense spending should be something that is relative, not absolute. If others increase it, we should do so accordingly.” He stressed that Japan has to step up its deterrence against China’s maritime push in the South and East China Seas and around the Taiwan Strait.


Top security officials of U.S., Japan discuss China, other challenges

Yomiuri and Asahi reported from Washington that visiting National Security Secretariat Secretary General Akiba held talks with National Security Advisor Sullivan on Monday. The two officials reportedly agreed to enhance cooperation on issues related to economic security, such as supply chains and cybersecurity, with China in mind.

According to the papers, Akiba separately met with Secretary of State Blinken and the two officials forged a consensus on countering China’s unilateral attempt to alter the status quo in the South and East China Seas. They also exchanged views on North Korea, agreeing to ensure bilateral and trilateral cooperation with South Korea.

Motegi to travel to Middle East on Aug. 15

Nikkei and Asahi took up the MOFA announcement on Tuesday that Foreign Minister Motegi will leave Japan for a tour of seven nations and regions in the Middle East on Aug. 15, saying that he will hold talks with his counterparts of Egypt, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Turkey, Iran, and Qatar during the 10-day trip.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team