"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 regarding the Novel Coronavirus

[Date] April 17, 2020
[Source] Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet
[Notes] Provisional Translation
[Full text]

[Opening Statement]

Ten days have passed since the declaration of a state of emergency was issued. During this time, every morning, some people have opened their stores and stocked shelves with food items and other daily necessities. Others have operated checkout registers or worked to deliver goods around the clock so that there would be no disruptions in the flow of goods. I extend my sincere thanks to all those who have continued operating their businesses to protect our daily lives even during this state of emergency.

At nursing facilities for the elderly, childcare centers, and other such places, many staff members continue providing care for those who need it, paying careful attention to preventing infections. If such social infrastructure as electricity, gas, and water supply, garbage collection and incineration, and railway operations are not maintained properly, our daily lives cannot be sustained. Without such people working so hard day and night to make our daily lives possible, we could not win the long-term battle with this virus. I express my sincere appreciation to all such people supporting our fight against an invisible and frightening enemy.

And, I wish to once again thank the public for responding to our request to refrain from going out as a step towards achieving our target of reducing people-to-people contact at least by 70 percent, or ideally 80 percent.

Business operators have also cooperated tremendously by having people work from home in principle and other efforts.

However, the number of new cases of infection each day has not yet reached a decline. In Tokyo, today reports of new infections have surpassed 200, the highest figure to date. It is a very severe situation.

The number of people out on weekdays in urban areas declined by roughly 60 percent in the area surrounding Shibuya in Tokyo and roughly 70 percent in the area surrounding Umeda in Osaka compared to before the spread of the infection. We have still not reached the reduction target. Unless we achieve our target of reducing people-to-people contact by at least 70 percent, or ideally 80 percent, it will be difficult to shift the number of new cases of infection per day dramatically into a decline.

The cumulative number of cases is already approaching 3,000 in Tokyo. In Osaka as well, the number has topped 1,000. Although efforts are now underway in various places around the country to have patients with mild symptoms recuperate in hotels and other such accommodations, medical facilities are sending out cries of desperation. Even lives to be saved -- lives that can be saved -- may no longer be able to be saved. With the risk of infection always present, the physical and mental burden on doctors and nurses working on the frontline is reaching its limit.

I once again make a request of the public. Please refrain from going out. Avoid coming into contact with others to the greatest possible extent. That will protect people at medical facilities and safeguard a large number of lives. It will also lead to protecting you and the people you love. Everything depends on the actions each one of us takes.

Yesterday, I expanded the area covered by the declaration of a state of emergency from seven prefectures to the entire country. With the endorsement of the experts on the Advisory Committee, including the chair, Dr. OMI Shigeru, the Novel Coronavirus Response Headquarters took that decision.

At present, group infections called clusters have been confirmed in areas all around Japan. Regarding these clusters, the experts' analysis is that people easing up on their efforts to curb the spread of infection over the three-day weekend in March and the movement of people from urban areas to other areas may have spread the infection nationwide.

In addition, some have pointed out that, while the governors have made such requests as for businesses to close temporarily in the seven prefectures including Tokyo and Osaka, the movement of people to regions outside those prefectures, which can be called a corona exodus, is being observed. We will soon be heading into the Golden Week holiday period. We must by all means avoid a situation arising in which people from urban areas with a large number of infected people flow into to other regions. That will certainly give rise to a nationwide and rapid spread, the situation to be feared most of all.

As I stated during last week's press conference as well, in those regions, there are many elderly people, who are said to have a high risk of developing severe symptoms. A rise in the infection risk will impose significant strains on community medical care, and by extension, this may result in tremendous impacts on people's daily lives and the national economy.

In order to avoid such a situation, in advance of the string of holidays, it will also be necessary to request tourist facilities to close down temporarily in various areas. To prevent the flow of people, an influx of people, we have now expanded the scope of the declaration of a state of emergency to the entire country so that those regions can take necessary emergency measures.

To this end, the duration of the declaration will remain unchanged, to May 6, when the Golden Week holidays end. For another 20 days from now, all of Japan must unite as one to battle this virus. I intend to join hands with all of the prefectures and take all possible means to protect people's health and people's lives.

As we extend the declaration of a state of emergency to cover the entire nation, we now ask for the cooperation of all citizens. The impact of this infectious disease is dragging out, with all citizens now finding themselves in austere circumstances. With a battle over the long haul also anticipated, the most crucial thing for us in getting through the battle with this virus is a sense of unity among the citizens.

We will overcome this situation together with the citizens. With that determination, we have decided to provide a cash payment of 100,000 yen per person for all citizens nationwide. We had planned a measure to provide a cash payment of 300,000 yen to each household in need whose income has declined significantly, but in light of the various opinions voiced by the citizens and by the ruling and the opposition parties, we have decided to further expand the scope of those eligible for support.

By doing so, the total amount of cash payments will expand significantly, from the scale of 6 trillion yen to more than 14 trillion yen. As this involves reformulating the supplementary budget, it will require roughly one additional week. I ask for cooperation towards swift enactment by the Diet.

In the process of reaching there, some confusion has arisen, and I myself take responsibility for that. I extend my sincere apologies to the citizens.

As circumstances shift dramatically day to day, I will listen carefully to the voices of the citizens and do my very utmost to make the best decisions at all times, placing the highest priority on their health and their daily lives. I am determined to continue fulfilling that responsibility. Cooperating with local governments and the institutions in charge of executing this measure, the government will work together in all-out efforts to enable the cash payments to reach to the hands of the citizens as soon as possible.

When the fixed-sum stipend was distributed to everyone nationally during the financial shock following the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the work just to send out the information to everyone in the public took as much as three months. For that reason, this time, placing importance on speed and avoiding people rushing to apply thus heightening the infection risk, we intend to have application procedures conducted by post or online, not in person at municipal offices.

As the areas subject to the declaration of a state of emergency have expanded, those who are in tourism, restaurant businesses, and the event industry are being affected significantly. We will also speedily implement cash payments to businesses. Among local governments that have requested businesses to close temporarily, there is some movement to distribute payments individually in exchange for cooperating with the shutdown requests. As the national government, we will provide nationwide broad support not only to businesses that were requested to shut their doors and complied with that request, but also to businesses whose sales have declined as a result of this infectious disease.

The national government will provide cash payments of up to 2 million yen to small- and medium-sized enterprises and up to 1 million yen to individual business owners, including freelancers.

Also, there are many businesses whose tax payment deadlines are coming soon. By deferring the payment of taxes and social security premiums, we will enable business operators to use those cash reserves to continue their businesses.

The government will use every possible means to support business operators who, in this tough time, are now truly gritting their teeth and making their best efforts and desperately move forward doing all they can. Your efforts will not be made in vain by any means. Let us overcome the state of emergency together.

Recently the emergence of clusters within hospitals and hospital-acquired infections have been reported one after another, and I am very concerned by this situation. All the doctors, nurses, nursing assistants, and hospital staff as well as the clinical technologists and the public health center workers -- it is people like them who are on the front lines at this very moment taking on the battle with the virus in harsh environments fraught with the risk of infection.

In order to tackle the current situation, the national government will act in cooperation with local governments to deliver to medical sites medical protective equipment necessary for preventing infections as much as possible. We will procure medical gowns, high-performance protective masks, and other such equipment through the full cooperation of the business community. Beginning this week we have implemented an early lifting of restrictions on online medical consultations, including initial consultations. In order to reduce the risk of infections occurring within hospitals, I would like everyone to utilize telephone or online consultations. We will establish testing centers in cooperation with medical associations located throughout the country. When deemed necessary by a primary care doctor, samples will be taken directly at these centers and be sent to private-sector testing institutions, thereby reducing the strain placed on public health centers and other facilities.

The national government has also mobilized a total of more than 13,000 members of the Self-Defense Forces thus far, in order to confront the current severe situation. They have provided support by transporting patients with mild cases to accommodations run by local governments and conducting other operations. We will work to reduce the burden on medical sites by concentrating medical care resources on patients with severe symptoms.

At this very moment, doctors, nurses, and medical practitioners are going all out to provide treatment in order to save the lives of seriously ill patients and protect people's lives. We will work to improve worker benefits including doubling medical fees.

We can express our heartfelt feelings of respect and appreciation to those working diligently at the front lines. In various locations nationwide, communities are making efforts to express their appreciation to medical professionals dedicating themselves to confronting the current severe situation by giving them rounds of applause and by illuminating various sites at night. Thank you very much for those efforts.

Meanwhile, there is something more we can do. That is not only to face up to the reality in front of us, but also to change the future. By all of us avoiding going out for non-essential, non-urgent reasons now, we will be able to reduce dramatically the number of new cases of infection two weeks from now. That will undoubtedly lead to a reduction in the burdens placed on medical sites. What determines the conditions at medical facilities two weeks from now is, truly, what we do right now. The future depends on our actions at present. In order to support medical professionals, please reduce the burden imposed on them. Change the future through the power of everyone taking action. I ask for everyone's cooperation amidst this state of emergency.

I will end my statement here