"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] May 4, 2020
[Source] Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet
[Notes] Provisional Translation
[Full text]

[Opening Statement]

Soon it will be a month since we issued the declaration of a state of emergency. We set a target of reducing people-to-people contact at least by 70 percent, and ideally 80 percent. Mindful of this target, the people have made considerable efforts, including by spending their time at home as much as possible. As a result, the number of cases nationally, which at one time had increased to almost 700 a day, has recently fallen to roughly 200 per day, a reduction to one-third of the previous level. This means that we are advancing steadily along the path leading to containment. The latest effective reproduction number, which indicates the number of people to whom an infected person spreads that infection, is also less than one.

In early April when we declared a state of emergency, there were some pessimistic forecasts for a month into the future that an explosive surge of infection would occur, as happened in Europe and the United States. But the actions taken by the citizens are changing our future for certain. In Japan, even with a state of emergency declared, it is not possible to have, for example, compulsory restrictions on leaving the house that carry penalties, as in Europe and the United States. And yet we avoided the spread of infection and succeeded in shifting over to a decline. This is the result of efforts made to the maximum extent possible by each and every citizen through strong resolve. I wish to express my sincere thanks to all the people who extended their cooperation.

At the same time, I must tell you in full candor that we must continue these kinds of efforts for some time to come. At the current time, we cannot yet say that the reduction in cases has reached a sufficient level. Nationwide, close to 10,000 people are still recuperating at hospitals or other facilities. The number of patients receiving treatment through ventilators has tripled over the past month. Given the fact that such severely ill patients need much time to recover, the reality that healthcare workers find themselves in harsh conditions will not change. More than 500 people have lost their lives to the infection until now. I extend my heartfelt condolences on their deaths.

In order to save as many lives as possible, it is imperative that we concentrate medical resources further on treating severely ill patients. We must reduce the number of new cases per day to an even greater extent. While every day nationwide more than 100 people are being discharged from hospitals and otherwise recovering at present, we must further reduce the number of new cases to a level below the number of daily recoveries.

Towards this end, to the citizens of the 13 prefectures with a large number of cases, thus requiring particular vigilance, I ask for their continued cooperation to avoid people-to-people contact by ideally 80 percent. In Tokyo, even now in May, on average more than 100 cases are being confirmed daily. I ask that people not let down their guard now, so that the efforts they made thus far do not come to naught.

And, to prevent infection spreading nationwide, we must avoid doing any activity that would give rise to a flow of people to areas outside the major cities. In order to take measures to that end, we have decided to extend the duration of the state of emergency nationwide. It is said that inpatients at hospitals have an average stay of two or three weeks. While holding the number of new cases down at a low level, we will work to enable infected patients to be discharged from care. By taking such an approach, it is estimated that about one month will be necessary to improve the pressing situation facing our medical facilities.

Regarding this approach, today, with the endorsement of the Advisory Committee on the Basic Action Policy, including Dr. OMI Shigeru, chair of the committee, we have decided to extend the declaration of the state of emergency for the entirety of this month, until the end of the month. In the meanwhile, ten days from now, on May 14, we will ask the experts to assess the situation again at that moment. When reassessing the situation, we ask the experts to analyze in detail the trends in the number of cases in each area, the degree of pressure being put on medical treatment structures, and other factors. If at that juncture it is deemed possible, we will lift the state of emergency without waiting until the end of this month.

I want to apologize to the public for being unable to end the declared state of emergency in the one month originally planned.

As the impacts of the disease become prolonged, micro-, small-, and medium-sized business operators, who support 70 percent of employment in Japan, now find themselves in an unprecedentedly harsh business environment, in which sales have gone to zero because of temporary business closures and other reasons. We are painfully aware of the hardships. Against that backdrop, it has been heartrending to make the decision to extend the state of emergency for another month.

We recognize that we must deliver cash as soon as possible, entirely unrestricted in the purpose of its use, to those struggling even to make payments due tomorrow. On May 1 we began taking applications for the Sustainability Subsidy (Subsidy Program for Sustaining Businesses), which provides up to two million yen in cash, and the first of these cash payments will begin on the 8th. Unsecured loans up to 30 million yen that are interest free in real terms with principal repayment deferred for a maximum of five years will be available from not only the Japan Finance Corporation and Shoko Chukin Bank but also local banks, shinkin banks, and credit unions. We will also provide grace periods for paying taxes and social security premiums. We want everyone to make use of these support measures to get through this state of emergency in one way or another. Fully determined to protect businesses and employment to the end no matter what, the entire government will make full-out efforts with a sense of urgency to deliver assistance right to business owners. With respect to reducing the burden borne by restaurants and other such businesses to pay rent, further expanding the Employment Adjustment Subsidies, and supporting students working part-time now in a severe situation, we will expeditiously put additional measures in place, in line with the discussions undertaken by the ruling parties.

In addition to that, what business operators hope for most of all is, we believe, the full-scale reopening of businesses. In order to make that a reality, we must contain the current infections within this upcoming month. May is the month for containment and a time to prepare for the next step.

I ask for your understanding and your cooperation.

Preventing the spread of infection is an absolute prerequisite for protecting our lives. Until effective remedies, effective methods of treatment, and vaccines are established, we must continue efforts to prevent the spread of infection. In that sense, it is critical for us to be prepared for a battle that is prolonged to a certain degree. However, if we continue conditions that severely restrict socioeconomic activities like now, our daily lives cannot be sustained. In order to protect lives, we must create as soon as possible a new normal for our everyday lives in the coronavirus era. We will move forward step by step together towards our everyday jobs and everyday lives as well as an exit beyond the state of emergency, premised on the existence of the virus. From that viewpoint, the experts proposed today basic points to bear in mind within our daily lives. In every aspect of our day-to-day lives, we should avoid the three Cs of closed spaces, crowded places, and close-contact settings as much as possible. We should restore our daily lives, keeping in mind the characteristics of this virus and maintaining appropriate levels of concern over them. The new mode for daily life set out by the experts will serve as a guide for that.

Children have put up with many things, with their schools closed for quite some time and them being unable to meet their friends or play outside sufficiently. I thank them from the bottom of my heart. Tremendous burdens have also been placed on their fathers and mothers and other family members. Last week, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology set out new guidelines that including, among other measures, staggered school attendance. We will restore children's school lives, even if it is stage by stage. We will promote efforts to create a new normal in school life as well.

We will create a new normal for our economic activities too. With the new mode for daily life as a point of reference, we request that the reopening of various shops, restaurants and cultural facilities, as well as the holding of relatively small-scale events, be conducted through fully implementing measures to prevent the spread of infection, such as social distancing between people. Within the next two weeks, we intend to formulate more detailed guidelines for each industry on measures to prevent infection, in consultation with experts so that we can fully relaunch business operations. That said, I ask that everyone continue to refrain from heading to places where group infections have been confirmed to date, such as restaurants where staff entertain customers in night entertainment districts, clubs with live music, and other such places where the three Cs overlap to a significant degree.

At the same time, it is not the case that going outside is itself bad. Maintain sufficient distance from others and wear a mask. It is fine to go outside when taking such precautionary measures. We will restore such daily routines based on the advice from the experts.

To reiterate, going outside does not, in itself, cause problems. With the major premise of avoiding the three Cs, we will create a new normal for our daily lives together with the public. May will be a month of moving forward, straight towards that exit.

At the same time, we will prepare thoroughly for the possibility of another wave of infection. May is also a month for shoring up those safeguards. Through the cooperation of local medical associations around the country, we will further build up screening capacity, including through developing PCR centers. We will make further efforts to reduce the burden borne by, and enhance the capacity of, public health centers, the strongholds for responding to the infection in local communities.

We will support the building of systems by each local government to provide appropriate care for patients smoothly depending on their symptoms, such as having them recuperate in lodging facilities or admitting them to medical facilities. We will also further strengthen domestic production and importation of medical gowns, high-performance masks, and other personal protective equipment. In addition, we will further enhance our efforts so that the government delivers such items directly to medical facilities on the front lines. We must also further strengthen the prevention of infections in nursing care facilities and other such places. Furthermore, we will accelerate in one push our efforts to establish effective therapeutic medicines and effective therapeutic methods over the next month.

Japan and the United States conducted joint clinical trials of Remdesivir and it has been approved for use in the U.S. An application was filed today requesting special approval for it in Japan as well. We will move forward expeditiously with the procedures for approval. With regard to Avigan, which was developed in Japan, it has already been administered in nearly 3,000 cases and clinical trials are moving forward steadily. If its effectiveness is confirmed making use of data from these trials, we hope to grant pharmaceutical approval so that it can be used with a doctor's prescription. We are aiming to have it approved within this month. We must use all possible means to shore up our preparations on all fronts against the next wave of infections. We consider it imperative to make this a month for doing so.

Living life with various restraints on movement and with fear of infections causes tension. We have a strong sense of fear towards viruses we cannot see; I feel the same as you. At the same time, I strongly fear such feelings of unease could lead to discrimination against others or actions that reject others. It is quite possible that such reactions would have even greater negative impacts upon our society than the virus. Each and every one of us is at risk of being infected. I ask you not to hold biases against patients or their families, but instead to have the spirit of supporting each other.

I am also extremely concerned about the situation in which group infections have arisen at hospitals around the country. Despite such a severe environment where the risk of infection persists, the doctors, nurses, nursing assistants, and hospital staff are doing their utmost at this very moment, with a strong sense of mission. Everything is done to save our lives. There must not be, in any way, discrimination against healthcare workers or their families. I also wish to express to them my sincere respect.

There are people who work at supermarkets and drugstores, support the supply chain, or sustain our society and our daily lives in so many different places, such as the staff at nursing facilities and day care centers, even under the state of emergency. Our lives are made possible thanks to these people. I reiterate my sincere gratitude to you. We respect and appreciate those who support our daily lives, and share a feeling of mutual support towards one another. This is the spirit of compassion. With such power of bonds between people, we will most definitely overcome our feelings of fear and unease towards an invisible virus.

I wish to extend my deepest appreciation once more to those spending time at home and refraining from going out for non-essential or non-urgent reasons, even during this extended holiday period this year. I feel tremendously encouraged knowing that there are people who are making an effort to enjoy time at home by deepening their bonds with others, using the Internet and social networking services to interact with friends online and through other means. Those forward-looking people are a major force pulling us through the state of emergency.

Every year, many people travel as a family during Golden Week, returning to their hometowns and so on. This year we have asked people to make use of other means such as "online homecomings." By doing so, you can protect the lives of yourself and also the family members you love. I thank you for your cooperation. The time will surely come when you head off somewhere with your family again. For the sake of that time to come, I want everyone now to please cherish, at home, the time spent with family and the conversations with other family members.

According to a genome analysis released by the National Institute of Infectious Diseases the other day, Japan is believed to have succeeded in holding down the first wave of infection arriving from China by thoroughly implementing measures against clusters. The analysis also indicated that the virus that came from the cruise ship Diamond Princess, where a group infection of more than 700 people emerged, was successfully contained in Japan through various measures. Furthermore, regarding the second wave, which arrived from Europe and the United States, the increase in cases is now passing its peak and we are moving towards the path of containment.

You have extended tremendous cooperation. You are going through great hardship, too. There is no question that the effort and the endeavors made until now are making a difference without a doubt. If we all do our best looking towards the future, we will surely overcome the current hardships. I ask for everyone's understanding and cooperation.

Thank you very much. I will end my statement here