"The World and Japan" Database (Project Leader: TANAKA Akihiko)
Database of Japanese Politics and International Relations
National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS); Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia (IASA), The University of Tokyo

[Title] [COVID-19] Press Conference by the Prime Minister

[Date] March 28, 2020
[Source] Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet
[Notes] Provisional translation
[Full text]

Opening Statement

The novel coronavirus disease is raging around the world. More than 500,000 people have been infected. It took more than 60 days to reach the first 100,000 infected, but most recently the number increased by 100,000 in a mere two days. It is spreading at a truly explosive rate. In several countries, the death toll from this disease has been increasing at a scale of hundreds per day for several days in a row, and adequate medical care is not being provided to the growing number of severely ill patients. A situation has emerged that can be called a collapse of the medical care system. This is most certainly not someone else’s problem. Japan could face the same situation in a short time. I once again ask the Japanese people to maintain the greatest possible vigilance, with that degree of a sense of urgency.

In Japan thus far, through the efforts of experts as well as public health center officials and other medical practitioners working on the frontlines, we have managed to somehow hold steady through the early detection and thorough control of transmission links in group-based infections called clusters. However, currently, there are a growing number of patients for whom the route of transmission is unknown, mainly in urban areas such as Tokyo or Osaka. When we are unable to trace the path of the infection, we cannot tell the scale at which infected people exist in the background. Moreover, if an uncontrollable chain of infections were to emerge, an explosive spread of infections could occur.

As for the possibility of this so-called “overshoot,” in Tokyo this week, Governor KOIKE Yuriko stated the metropolis is in a critical phase and called on the citizens of Tokyo to refrain from going out at night or on holidays, among other measures. Together with the governors of Chiba, Kanagawa, Saitama, and Yamanashi Prefectures, she appealed for voluntary cooperation in canceling events and refraining from going out into crowded places for non-essential or non-urgent reasons. In Osaka and Kumamoto as well, the public has been urged to refrain from going out this weekend. I would also like to make an impassioned request for citizens to cooperate with these requests from local governments.

Once an explosive spread of infections occurs, in only two weeks the number of infected people is estimated to soar to more than 30 times the current figure, based on the examples in Europe and the U.S. Should that happen, our strategy of delaying the peak by restraining the speed of infection as much as possible will immediately collapse.

Some may be thinking that the total number of infected people in Japan is still low compared to Europe and the United States. However, in light of the incubation period, among other things, the number of infected people we see every day is nothing more than a snapshot of the state of new infections roughly two weeks prior. That is to say, even if at this moment an explosive rise in cases had already occurred, we would not be able to detect it immediately. By the time two weeks pass and figures appear, the speed of increase in the number of patients would already be beyond our control. This is the most frightening aspect of this infectious disease. We must fight through to the end against this horrible enemy with indomitable determination.

With that strong sense of urgency, we mobilized the Self-Defense Forces to drastically reinforce our countermeasures at the borders. The day before yesterday, based on the amended Act on Special Measures, we took a Cabinet decision to establish a national headquarters for countermeasures. Through this decision, every prefecture has already established its own headquarters for countermeasures as well. Further advancing coordination with local governments, we will make every possible effort to prevent the spread of infection while also envisaging worst-case scenarios. I ask the public to refrain from all non-essential, non-urgent travel.

In order to reduce the risk of group infections, I ask once more for people to avoid to the greatest possible extent the so-called three conditions that enable group transmission. The first of these is closed spaces having poor ventilation. The second is places crowded with people. And the third is close conversations taking place at short distances. Closed spaces, crowds, and close contact. I ask the public to avoid these “three Cs.”

With schools reopening in the new semester, this week the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology set forth guidelines. By taking thorough measures at each educational facility to avoid these three conditions, such as to keep opening classroom windows for ventilation, the guidelines aim to be doubly sure in preventing children from becoming infected. With regard to schools reopening, I intend to once again convene an experts meeting next week and listen to opinions from experts’ standpoints. A little more than a month has passed since the experts expressed the view that Japan was at a critical moment. During this time, some things such as the three conditions to avoid have come to light. We have also asked the public to take on some heavy burdens such as canceling, postponing, or downsizing large-scale events. I thank the public sincerely for their cooperation.

Many people may have been feeling stress over the past month, with what can be called coronavirus fatigue or voluntary restraint burnout. However, in the U.S. and in some countries in Europe now experiencing an explosive spread of infections, there has been no alternative but to put hardline measures in place. These include putting cities into lockdown, imposing obligatory bans on people leaving their homes, and shuttering shops other than those providing daily necessities. We are currently imposing sizable inconveniences, but I ask for your understanding that they are intended to avoid more austere hardline measures of this kind.

As I mentioned earlier, under current circumstances, Japan, in contrast to Europe or the U.S., is still managing to hold steady by a very narrow margin. However, if we let down our guard even a little as a result, there is no telling when an abrupt escalation in cases could happen. Even though we have been fortunate enough to avert a radical increase in cases, that means our situation of being at a “critical moment” will continue for some time to come. It is imperative that the public brace itself for this fight to be a long-term battle. I state this in full candor and ask the Japanese people for their continued cooperation in preventing the spread of the infection.

In order to eliminate the public’s unease as soon as possible, the government will bring together wisdom from around the world and accelerate the development of effective pharmaceutical treatments and vaccines. During both the G7 and G20 summit meetings held via videoconferencing recently, I stated that point strongly and received the support of leaders around the world. In Japan we have already begun administering four drugs to patients as observational studies.

Among these, in dozens of cases thus far we have administered Avigan, which has been approved as a pharmaceutical treatment for novel influenza with side effects and other properties already identified. It is a drug preventing viral replication, and there have been reports that it has already been effective in alleviating symptoms. Many countries have expressed interest in Avigan, and from now, cooperating with interested countries, we will expand clinical research and begin to increase production of the drug. We also intend to launch the process of clinical trials, which is necessary for the drug to be formally approved as a therapeutic agent for the novel coronavirus disease. As for Remdesivir, developed as a therapeutic agent for Ebola virus disease, international joint clinical trials are starting, with Japan and the United States at the center. In addition, a fifth promising candidate, Futhan (Nafamostat mesylate), which has been approved as a pharmaceutical treatment for pancreatitis, is scheduled to begin being administered from now as an observational study to patients who have given advance consent.

Universities and private companies have started to engage themselves in developing pharmaceutical treatments, vaccines, and so on. Through providing robust support for these activities, the government will pursue a full range of possibilities. Amidst the unprecedented unease and fear covering not only Japan but also the entire world, it is my hope that Japan will light a flame of hope through its power of innovation.

We will take bold measures going forward to address the current economic situation, where we have fallen into a severe state never experienced before. Yesterday, the budget for the next fiscal year was passed by the Diet. As a result, from the new fiscal year we will be able to seamlessly execute the budget for such initiatives as enhancing social security, including medical and nursing care, and making higher education free of charge. In addition, after this, I will convene the national headquarters for countermeasures and direct it to formulate emergency economic measures. While it is an exceptional case since the financial shock created after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, we will formulate a supplementary budget for the next fiscal year and submit it to the Diet as soon as possible. We intend to formulate and then move to implement an unprecedented, powerful policy package, introducing all possible policy measures such as reductions in national and local taxes as well as financial measures.

Seven times as of yesterday, I have listened directly to the voices of people in various workplaces and local areas. There has been an exceedingly enormous impact across the Japanese economy, arising alongside voluntary restraint regarding various activities and other factors. Bus reservations for next month are down by 90 percent year over year. The airline industry too is experiencing a drop in revenue that could cause the entirety of annual operating profits to vanish. There are many places where sales in the lodging and food service industries have plummeted by 80 or 90 percent. In the music industry, I heard some say that events have been canceled and sales are at zero or incurring losses. With uncertainty in their future, micro-, small-, and medium-sized business operators told me heart-rending accounts describing the situation as a matter of life or death. At the same time, some have shared their determination with me, that they will grit their teeth and make their very best efforts to survive this ordeal.

The government will thoroughly provide support to respond to their plight and we will firmly protect employment and places to work in local communities. It is also critical to have the power of culture, the arts, and sports, which soothe people’s souls particularly in such a time as this. We must not by any means let the flame of culture be extinguished even in times of hardship. That said, in the current situation in which preventing the spread of infection takes the very highest priority, we will move forward with measures that place emphasis on overcoming this difficult situation first of all.

For micro-, small-, and medium-sized business operators, we have already put into place bold liquidity support measures that are interest-free in real terms and do not require collateral, with repayment of principal deferred for a maximum of five years. We will also make it possible to take out these interest-free loans through private-sector financial institutions.

Furthermore, in order for business owners to overcome these difficulties, we will prepare not only lending but also a new subsidy. Mindful of the current severe situation, we will carry out unprecedented assistance for micro-, small-, and medium-sized business owners at a scale never seen before.

For families in which income decreases and there is a danger of difficulties cropping up in daily life as a result of reductions in work or other circumstances, we have already taken various measures such as small-scale financial support that could be exempted from repayment as well as grace periods for paying taxes and public utilities charges. In addition to these, we will boldly provide benefits to support daily life.

With the entire government working as one, we intend to listen to the voices of people in various circumstances and provide well-tailored assistance.

At the stage where the spread of infection is contained and we have swept away social unease, we will make the Japanese economy achieve a V-shaped recovery in one push. In every corner of the nation, in order to bring smiles back to people’s faces, we intend to provide support to bring about a robust revitalization by implementing bold and intensive demand stimulus measures in a short timeframe, covering travel and transportation, eating out, events, and more.

The world will work in cooperation to implement powerful economic and fiscal policies. This is the agreement we reached during the recent G20 summit. As a nation taking the lead in international cooperation, Japan will formulate a set of measures at a scale never seen in Japan before, surpassing the economic measures implemented after the financial shock that followed the collapse of Lehman Brothers.

As for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, whose opening this summer has made our hearts beat faster in anticipation, has been unavoidably postponed, and we will hold the Games no later than the summer of 2021. For the athletes who have given their all with their sights set on this summer, I feel this is extremely regrettable, but I ask for their understanding, given the current state of affairs globally.

I want the Olympic flame that arrived in Japan last week to continue to burn here in Japan as a symbol of the hopes of humanity, and send it off resolutely when the day comes. This very Olympic flame is a light of hope, guiding humanity to a way out of the long and dark tunnel in which we now find ourselves. I will be absolutely certain to make next year’s Olympic and Paralympic Games a success, together with the Japanese people, as proof that humanity has defeated the novel coronavirus.

I will end my opening statement here