|Morning Alert - Thursday, August 12, 2021|
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Broadcasters led with the forecast for heavy rain across Japan through the weekend (NHK, NTV), reports on a record number of COVID-19 cases reported nationwide yesterday (TBS), an increase in the number of people out and about in Kamakura (Fuji TV), and security camera footage of a man ransacking a laundromat in Tokyo (TV Asahi).
All national dailies except Nikkei gave front-page coverage to the exponential spike in COVID-19 cases across the country. Nikkei’s top item was the GOJ’s plan to designate approximately 600 plots of land near SDF facilities and nuclear plants as properties that may not be purchased by foreign investors due to national security concerns.
Explosive rise in COVID-19 cases reported nationwide
All national dailies reported extensively on yesterday’s meeting of the Health Ministry advisory board on the COVID-19 pandemic during which participants expressed alarm over the exponential increase in cases involving the Delta variant not only in Tokyo and other metropolitan areas but also in many rural prefectures, as well as the considerable strain being placed on local healthcare systems. The board members described the situation as being on the verge of a “public health disaster.”
According to the ministry panel, as of Tuesday the seven-day rolling average of daily cases had exceeded the GOJ-designated Stage 4, which warrants the declaration of a state of emergency, in 31 prefectures. On Wednesday, nine prefectures, mostly in western Japan, reported record numbers of new cases, including Osaka (1,409), Kyoto (341), Shiga (162), and Nara (138). Numbers of seriously ill patients are also rising steadily, with a record high of 197 reported in Tokyo yesterday, surpassing the previous record of 160 reported on Jan. 20 amid the third wave of infection. Hospital beds reserved for such patients are rapidly filling in Tokyo, Kanagawa, and Okinawa. Thousands of patients with moderate symptoms are being forced to isolate at home nationwide without medical support due to the shortage of hospital beds. The hospital bed occupancy rates were particularly high in Okinawa, Shiga, Fukushima, and Kanagawa.
In a related story, Sankei claimed that the GOJ may decide as early as next week to place certain rural prefectures under a state of emergency on account of the spike in infections and the increasing strain on healthcare capacities there. The daily projected that since such a declaration will probably last at least three or four weeks, the ongoing state of emergency for Tokyo, Osaka, Okinawa, and three other prefectures in Kanto will also be extended by several weeks beyond the present expiration date of Aug. 31. The paper observed that while Prime Minister Suga promised when he pronounced the current state of emergency in early July that it would be the “last one,” the public is increasingly frustrated and upset that the premier has failed to fulfill many of his pledges on combating the virus.
Asahi wrote that despite the skyrocketing caseloads, the number of people out and about has not declined substantially. Many people are also reportedly planning to travel during the Obon holidays. Some public health experts predict that the caseloads may not be as high as some fear later this week but that will be because the testing capacity will be limited due to labs and clinics being closed for the holiday rather than because the virus is being contained. As such, they are bracing for the caseloads to rise to all-time highs in many parts of the country in the latter half of next week.
GOJ designates nine nations and regions as areas affected by Delta variant
Yomiuri reported that on Wednesday the GOJ designated a total of nine nations and regions, including France, Israel, South Carolina, Alaska, Tennessee, and Nebraska, as areas hit hard by the Delta strain. Travelers from these areas will be required to stay at pre-designated facilities for three days upon arrival. The GOJ separately decided that mandatory isolation periods at designated facilities at ports of entry for travelers from India, Sri Lanka, and three other nations will be shortened from ten days to six days. For those from the UK, Pakistan, and two other areas, the present six-day requirement will be reduced to three days.
Leading public health expert calls for ban on spectators at Paralympics
Mainichi and Nikkei highlighted remarks made to the press yesterday by Director General Wakita of the National Institute for Infectious Diseases, who emphasized that spectators should not be allowed to attend the Tokyo Paralympics under the present COVID-19 infection situation. The top virologist, who heads the Health Ministry’s advisory board on the coronavirus pandemic, added that this is his personal opinion.
Defense Ministry aims to drastically increase spending in FY2022
According to Asahi, the Defense Ministry plans to request a substantial increase in the defense budget for the next fiscal year, using the U.S.-Japan joint statement issued by President Biden and Prime Minister Suga in April as a justification for allocating an unprecedentedly high amount of money for purchasing expensive defense hardware. The ministry has reportedly concluded that Japan should drastically increase its defense spending to comply with the sentence in the bilateral document that reads: “Japan resolved to bolster its own national defense.” The ministry also cites China’s rapid military buildup and aggressive maritime operations in the South and East China Seas as a reason for a sizable increase in the defense budget. The daily added that some ministry officials and members of the LDP defense clique are even aiming to do away with the country’s long-standing 1% GDP ceiling for annual defense spending.
Top security official at Kantei holds talks with U.S. defense chief
Mainichi, Sankei, and Nikkei wrote from Washington that visiting National Security Secretariat Secretary General Akiba and Defense Secretary Austin held talks on Tuesday afternoon and confirmed closer coordination to raise the alliance’s deterrence further in view of the increasingly severe security situation in East Asia. The Pentagon chief apparently briefed Akiba on the ongoing global posture review by the U.S. military.
Some 600 plots of land to be designated as “off-limits” for foreign purchase
Nikkei led with GOJ moves to designate about 600 plots of land on remote islands and near SDF facilities or nuclear power plants across the country as properties whose acquisition and possession by foreigners will be prohibited. The plan follows the enactment earlier this year of legislation aimed at restricting foreign ownership of such real estate. The designation will reportedly be made in several rounds, with the first one, which will occur next autumn, to include property adjacent to SDF radar platforms in Hokkaido, Nagasaki, and Okinawa, various SDF command headquarters across the country, and nuclear power stations. According to the article, the Senkakus will not be included in the designation.
Seoul court dismisses forced labor compensation case
Sankei wrote that the Seoul Central District Court dismissed on Wednesday a suit filed in 2017 by the bereaved family of a former requisitioned worker seeking compensation from Mitsubishi Materials on the grounds that the statute of limitations for the civil case had expired in 2015. The daily interpreted the verdict as meaning that such lawsuits filed after the ROK Supreme Court ruling in October 2018 ordering a Japanese steel firm to pay redress to victims of forced labor may be rendered “invalid” on account of the expiration of the statute of limitations.
Japan keen to support peacebuilding in Middle East
Yomiuri took up Foreign Minister Motegi’s Middle East tour that will begin on Aug. 15, saying he is eager to help arbitrate peace between the Israelis and Palestinians and between Iran and the United States with the goal of raising Japan’s profile in the region. This will be the first time in four and half years for the top Japanese diplomat to visit Israel and the Palestinian territories. The cabinet member is also expected to travel to Tehran to urge senior Iranian officials to return to the nuclear accord.
Top Japanese, Russian diplomats hold teleconference
All national papers except Asahi wrote that Foreign Minister Motegi and his Russian counterpart Lavrov spoke by phone on Wednesday and agreed to continue candid discussions at various levels in order to promote bilateral relations. They exchanged views on a range of topics, including a peace treaty, joint economic activities in the Northern Territories, and exchange programs. The Japanese official protested Russian Prime Minister Mishustin’s visit to one of the contested islands last month. Motegi also reportedly “took note” of President Putin’s remark in July that he is ready to put forward an “unprecedentedly unique” proposal on joint activities in the disputed territories. The Russian minister stopped short of clarifying what the proposal will entail. According to Yomiuri, the Japanese minister raised concern about a Russian idea of designating the four islands as a “special zone” for attracting foreign investment.
|U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team|