Morning Alert   -   Thursday, December 23, 2021
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All broadcasters led with reports on the first community transmission of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus in Osaka Prefecture, with three family members, with no history of travel overseas, being infected through unknown routes.

Top items in national dailies included the detection of the first community transmission of the Omicron strain, NTT’s plan to join hands with the University of Tokyo to develop a quantum computer in 2030 at the earliest, the GOJ’s plan to allocate 107 trillion yen for the FY2022 budget, and the final report put together by a GOJ blue-ribbon commission on the maintenance of the imperial system.


U.S. military to conduct COVID-19 tests for all Japan-bound personnel

All national papers took up a teleconference held yesterday between Foreign Minister Hayashi and the USFJ commander, Lt. Gen. Rupp, at which the Japanese official expressed strong regret at the massive cluster infection at Camp Hansen. The commander reportedly stated that he is taking the matter “seriously.” In reply to Hayashi’s call for additional steps to contain the outbreak, the commander reportedly said all service members bound for Japan from the United States will receive COVID-19 diagnostic tests prior to departure. He also reportedly suggested that additional testing may be conducted after arrival in Japan.

According to Hayashi, who briefed the media, Lt. Gen. Rupp explained that arriving personnel had been subject to PCR tests five days after upon entry on the condition that they were full vaccinated and that they had been allowed to move freely on base even during the two-week quarantine period after arrival. “I filed a request [for stronger controls] directly with the commander since their measures have been out of synch with Japan’s steps,” the cabinet member was quoted as saying: “We will continue to coordinate closely and file requests for necessary measures without fail.” According to NHK, the foreign minister separately called for the USFJ chief to tighten discipline in reference to the arrest on Monday of a Hansen service member on DUI charges.

FY2022 budget for Okinawa to fall below 300 billion yen

All national papers wrote that Finance Minister Suzuki and Okinawa Affairs Minister Nishime agreed yesterday that the central government’s budget for economic development in the island prefecture in the next fiscal year will be 268 billion yen ($2.35 billion), down more than 10% from this year and the lowest figure in a decade. “Lump-sum grants” that the prefectural government can use at its discretion without the central government’s guidance will also be slashed by 21.9 billion yen ($192 million) from this year to 76.2 billion yen ($667 million).

Asahi speculated that the reductions are aimed at shaking the political foundation of Governor Tamaki, who is expected to seek reelection next autumn, quoting a Kantei source as saying: “The cutbacks should be taken as the administration’s message that Okinawa cannot expect financial support from the central government during Tamaki’s governorship.” According to Mainichi, the governor voiced regret at the cutbacks by telling the press yesterday: “I don’t think that the budget, which is intended to promote Okinawa’s economic development following the 50th anniversary of its return to Japan’s administration next year, will satisfy the wishes of Okinawans.”

British manufacturer to join Japan’s fighter jet development

All national dailies wrote that according to the Defense Ministry, leading UK defense contractor Rolls Royce will team up with IHI to jointly develop the engine for the next-generation fighter jet that the ministry plans to roll out in 2035. As the British government also plans to develop a jet fighter of its own in a similar timeframe, the two governments are reportedly hoping to reduce costs for design and production of their models by sharing R&D costs and technical know-how for a key component.

In a related development, Mainichi wrote that the GOJ plans to earmark 85.8 billion yen ($751 million) for R&D for the new fighter jet in FY2022, up almost 28 billion ($245 million) from this year. Defense Minister Kishi, who secured the budget during a meeting with Finance Minister Suzuki yesterday, told the press afterward that the project is indispensable for the defense of Japan amid China’s rapid deployment of numerous state-of-the-art fighters.

LDP holds meeting on economic security

Yomiuri wrote that a ruling LDP panel on economic security convened its first meeting on Wednesday in line with the Kishida administration’s plan to enact relevant legislation next year, saying that the taskforce will draft for submission to the government recommendations for enhancing the nation’s economic security in such areas as energy, telecommunications, and supply chains. Former Secretary General Amari, who chaired the panel, warned of the looming possibility that “China may halt the export of strategic materials to countries that disobey its will.”


First cases of Omicron community transmission confirmed

All national papers gave prominent front- and inside-page play to the Osaka prefectural government’s announcement yesterday that three people from the same family tested positive for the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus and that since they have not traveled overseas recently and the infection routes remain unknown, the cases represent the first community transmission in Japan. Two other family members have also tested positive for COVID-19, although it remains uncertain whether they contracted the Omicron strain.

According to Governor Yoshimura, two other persons, who had not traveled abroad or had contact with the three family members, may also be infected with the emerging strain. The results of genome sequencing of the virus sampled from the two will soon be available. The governor said: “I think all of these cases are community transmissions. It is possible that the Omicron variant has already spread to other parts of the prefecture.”

The GOJ was reportedly alarmed by the detection of the first cases of community transmission. “We will implement tougher infection prevention protocols even more thoroughly and quickly,” Prime Minister Kishida told the press in commenting on the cases last night. While dismissing the possibility that the Omicron strain has already spread across the country, Health Minister Goto said: “As the variant is extremely contagious, public health experts at home and abroad are warning that sooner or later it will spread.”

All arrivals from U.S. to be asked to stay for at least three days at designated facilities

According to Nikkei and Sankei, all travelers from the United States will be required without exception to self-quarantine for 3 days or longer at predesignated facilities upon arrival beginning on midnight Saturday, saying that the move is intended to head off the further infiltration of the Omicron strain.


GOJ to launch two interagency taskforces on human rights

Nikkei and Sankei highlighted the disclosure by Special Advisor to the Prime Minister on human rights Nakatani on Wednesday that two inter-ministry panels will be established to come up with measures to address human rights abuses. One will be responsible for dealing with corporate responsibility for defending human rights and civil liberties overseas while the other one will focus on other relevant issues.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team