Morning Alert   -   Tuesday, November 30, 2021
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Broadcasters led with reports on the GOJ’s decision to reimpose the ban on all new foreign arrivals for one month starting today in response to the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 (NHK, NTV, Fuji TV), the arrest of the chairman of Nihon University on suspicion of tax evasion (TBS), and a press conference by Crown Prince Fumihito, the younger brother of Emperor Naruhito, on his birthday (TV Asahi).

All national papers except Yomiuri gave top coverage to the reinstatement of the entry ban on foreign travelers. Yomiuri’s top item was the arrest of the Nihon University chairman.


Japan reimposes ban on foreign visitors in response to new COVID-19 strain

All national papers reported extensively on the GOJ decision yesterday to close the nation’s borders to all foreign travelers except those currently residing in Japan in a bid to prevent the infiltration of the Omicron variant. The entry ban will remain in place for at least one month beginning today. Foreign residents with long-term visas and Japanese nationals returning from nine African nations plus 14 other countries and regions will now be required to stay for up to 10 days in predesignated facilities. The tighter border controls reverse an earlier GOJ decision made only three weeks ago to reopen the border to foreign business travelers, students, and others. The 3,500 cap on the number of new arrivals per day, which was raised to 5,000 only several days ago, will also be reinstated tomorrow.

Kishida responds swiftly to new COVID-19 variant in light of predecessors’ “failures”

All national dailies wrote that in announcing the reinstatement of tougher border controls against the new COVID-19 strain yesterday afternoon, Prime Minister Kishida stressed that it was an “emergency precaution” aimed at heading off the “worst case scenario.” “As the nature of the new variant is still unknown, I could be criticized for being overly cautious,” Kishida was quoted as saying. “But I am willing to endure any criticism.” According to Sankei, last week Kishida instructed his deputies to present him with the “strictest option” for preventing the infiltration of the Omicron strain.

The dailies said that even though no cases involving the latest “variant of concern” have been confirmed in Japan yet, the premier chose to act swiftly in light of strong criticism that the Abe and Suga administrations failed to act promptly enough in closing the door to foreign nationals despite a surge in infections at home. Asahi quoted a source close to Kishida as saying: “We were, of course, aware that our predecessors were criticized for moving too slowly.” LDP politicians reportedly praised the Kishida administration for responding to the new variant “without delay,” with Asahi explaining that the ruling party is keen to nip in the bud any public discontent with the government’s handling of the new strain in the run-up to the Upper House election next summer.

Mainichi added that the administration’s goal of achieving a swift economic recovery through the compilation of a massive supplementary budget and a new set of infection prevention and mitigation protocols for businesses may hit a snag amid rising apprehension about the Omicron strain. The daily quoted a GOJ source as saying: “The prime minister has decided to seal the country off. The adverse effects on the economy and other sectors will be unavoidable.”

Person from Namibia tests positive for COVID-19

Nikkei highlighted a Health Ministry announcement yesterday that a person who arrived in Japan from Namibia tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday, saying that the African country is one of the nine nations against which the GOJ strengthened its border controls due to the emergence of the Omicron variant. His two accompanying family members tested negative for the virus. The National Institute of Infectious Diseases is still investigating whether the traveler is infected with the new strain, as genome sequencing of the virus may take several more days to complete. The ministry is having difficulty tracking down the person’s close contacts, including passengers who were seated near him on the plane.


Kishida eager to visit U.S. by early January

Nikkei wrote that while Prime Minister Kishida is eager to visit the United States for talks with President Biden around the end of the year or in early January, the Biden administration appears to be running into difficulty finding an appropriate time to host him due to uncertainty over President Biden’s $2 trillion social spending and climate bill. As the President met with former Prime Minister Suga in Washington in April and September, a visit to the U.S. capital by Kishida in December would be the third one by a Japanese prime minister this year. The paper conjectured that the USG may be hesitant to host a Japanese leader again at a time when it is preoccupied with dealing with the domestic agenda. Because most Japanese prime ministers since the 2000s have visited the United States for summits about two months after taking office, the daily said Kishida is hoping to do the same, adding that the Japanese side is also aiming to secure at least 30 minutes for a Biden-Kishida session so that they can hold in-depth discussions on key issues, such as the Taiwan situation. The daily projected that it will be very difficult for both sides to arrange a summit after early January as the regular Diet session will convene in late January and the mid-term election will begin to loom large for the Biden administration.

Kishida holds teleconference with EU leader

Yomiuri and Nikkei reported that Prime Minister Kishida and President Michel of the European Council spoke by phone on Monday and agreed to strengthen cooperation to realize a free and open Indo-Pacific. They also affirmed greater coordination in such sectors as digital trade, cybersecurity, supply chains, and climate change.


U.S. military was aware that water bottle fell from Osprey in Okinawa

Asahi filed a follow-up on the recent mishap in which a stainless-steel water bottle fell from a Futenma-based MV-22 last week as it flew over a residential area in Ginowan, saying that even though the U.S. military learned of the incident immediately, it chose not to notify the Japanese side until the Okinawa Defense Bureau filed an inquiry. A base spokesperson reportedly told the daily that one of the crewmembers saw the bottle fall from the aircraft while it was taking off from the installation on the evening of Nov. 23. Ginowan Mayor Matsukawa reportedly visited Camp Foster on Monday to lodge a protest over the incident.


Health Ministry updates guidelines for telemedicine

According to Nikkei, the Health Ministry put together new rules on telemedicine on Monday, allowing it to be used even for initial consultations. While initial consultations are supposed to be performed by patients’ primary care physicians in principle, other doctors may also do so if patients do not have primary care physicians or their primary care physicians do not practice telemedicine on the condition that the two sides hold a “preliminary session” online to exchange basic information on the patient’s health condition and past medical record.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team