"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] Press Conference by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

[Date] June 18, 2020
[Source] Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet
[Notes] Provisional Translation
[Full text]

To begin my remarks, it is highly regrettable that a current member of the Diet who used to be affiliated with our party was arrested today. As the one who appointed him to be the Minister of Justice in the past, I am aware of my responsibility. I deeply apologize to the Japanese people. Taking this opportunity, I believe, we Diet members must accept profoundly the harsh gaze of the public and achieve the highest ethical standards once again.

The ordinary session of the Diet, spanning 150 days, ended yesterday. Right after the Diet session convened, the novel coronavirus spread explosively in China and the city of Wuhan was locked down. We had to ensure that the Japanese nationals and their family members spending an uneasy time there in Wuhan returned to Japan safely. Everything started from the operation for that.

At the end of January, we decided on measures denying entry to foreign nationals from China's Hubei Province. In response to the subsequent global spread of the infection, the number of countries and regions subject to the entry ban has expanded to 111, and we have reinforced our border controls. In February, we responded to the situation in the Diamond Princess. Throughout March, we refrained from holding large-scale events and schools all around Japan closed temporarily. By advancing these kinds of efforts, Japan succeeded in holding down the first wave from China.

However, a second wave of infections arriving from Europe and the United States spread and, with our medical facilities severely stretched, we issued a declaration of a state of emergency in April. Thanks to tremendous efforts made by the Japanese people, on May 25, we managed to lift the state of emergency nationwide. And now, we are restoring socioeconomic activities while simultaneously preventing infections. We are most certainly moving forward step by step towards a new normal for our everyday lives in the age of coronavirus.

When we look back on this ordinary session of the Diet, it was truly 150 days of corona responses. During this time, we received the cooperation of not only the ruling parties but also the opposition parties, enabling us to enact expeditiously an amendment to the Act on Special Measures for Pandemic Influenza and New Infectious Diseases Preparedness and Response, giving us a mean to issue a declaration of a state of emergency. Through establishing a forum for consultations between the ruling and opposition parties, we regularly exchanged views, obtaining support for the early enactment of the two consecutive supplementary budgets. Through the measures amounting to a total scale of 230 trillion yen and reaching 40 percent of our GDP, the largest scale anywhere worldwide, we will thoroughly defend employment, people's daily lives, and the Japanese economy. I extend my wholehearted appreciation once more to all those in the ruling and opposition parties who gave us their cooperation.

One hundred and fifty days ago, the features of this virus were entirely unknown to us. We have gradually come to understand its characteristics. We have learned that there is a high risk of transmitting the virus to others between one and two days prior to symptoms such as a fever or cough developing, even if a patient is asymptomatic at the time. In light of this finding, at the end of May, in addition to people for whom testing is deemed necessary by a doctor, we made all those who had close contact with infected people eligible for PCR testing, even if they show no symptoms.

When the number of patients in the city of Kitakyushu increased temporarily after lifting the declaration of the state of emergency, we conducted thorough testing for those who had close contact with infected persons on the basis of this new policy. Now, the number of new cases is dropping substantially. In Tokyo, we are ramping up our testing in night entertainment districts where group infections have been confirmed to date. The number of persons confirmed positive is increasing, but we consider this reinforcement of testing to be effective in preventing a second wave of infections.

Identifying only those individuals with a high risk of infections, actively conducting screening on them, and rapidly detecting positive cases -- the so-called counter-cluster (group infections) approach -- are regarded as an extremely effective measure for preventing the spread of infections in a way thoroughly compatible with socioeconomic activities.

Currently, as the world is working towards the recovery of socioeconomic activities, Japan's counter-cluster approach is receiving a great deal of attention. By avoiding the "three Cs," closed spaces, crowded places, and close-contact settings, we can prevent infections while continuing with our day-to-day jobs and daily lives. This too is a finding obtained in the course of advancing our counter-cluster measures, and it has become recognized as "the three Cs" the world over.

From tomorrow, we will introduce the Contact-Confirming Application (COCOA), thereby strengthening by another level our counter-cluster measures. When using this app, notification is automatically sent out to people's smartphones when they may have come into close contact with a person known to be infected. This has become a system for linking people with rapid testing. As it does not obtain personal information whatsoever, you can use this app without concern. So I very much hope that many people will download it.

As I said at the previous press conference, according to a study conducted at Oxford University, if this kind of app is popularized to reach almost 60 percent of the public, leading to the early detection of people who have had close contact with infected persons, lockdowns will be avoidable. As I have said repeatedly, we must change our way of thinking. Approaches that sacrifice socioeconomic activities cannot be sustained for a long period of time. We must ensure the economy runs properly, while controlling the risk of infection through means that are the least restrictive possible. We need efforts that put greater emphasis on safeguarding our jobs and our daily lives.

That is precisely why we will continue to hone the counter-cluster approach Japan takes pride in. Through the cooperation of experts, we intend to evolve those measures continuously, always incorporating the latest knowledge and most up-to-date technologies.

The major premise for this is screening capacity that is more than sufficient. PCR tests using saliva have already begun. We will also advance the further use of antigen testing and strengthen our domestic screening capacity still more.

Given such efforts, tomorrow, we will raise the level of socioeconomic activities another notch. People will be entirely free to travel across prefectural boundaries beginning tomorrow. We very much hope that people also go on sightseeing trips to various locations, mindful of keeping distance between themselves and others. Professional baseball will also begin tomorrow. J. League soccer is also pushing forward its preparations for matches without spectators. Concerts and other events can be held at a scale of roughly 1,000 people in attendance. We would like people to get socioeconomic activities back into full swing, with measures put in place to prevent the spread of infection through reference to the guidelines. We will certainly be on our way to create a new normal for our everyday lives.

While we must of course pay careful attention, it is imperative for us to restore the flow of people between Japan and the rest of the world step by step. In a world in which globalization has progressed as much as it has, continuing the current state of our country being closed will result in tremendous impacts on our society and economy. This will in particular be fatal to Japan, an island nation that is oriented to international trade. We will reopen our country/resume our interactions in stages with necessary business exchanges for those countries in which the level of infections has been stabilized. At the Novel Coronavirus Response Headquarters just now, we decided on a course towards launching consultations for these purposes.

The premise for this is requiring a confirmed negative result in screening done prior to departing for Japan and additionally conducting a PCR test when entering Japan. This is an approach that allows business activities by relaxing restrictions on visitors' movement after ensuring peace of mind through sufficient layers of screenings. As countries head towards restoring the movement of people, Japan intends to lead discussions with other countries. Accordingly, it is absolutely essential that we expand our screening capacity. Through cooperation with the business community, we will consider establishing new PCR centers for people traveling overseas and other relevant measures.

We intend to restore step by step and without fail our normal lives and daily routines that we lost because of this infectious disease. We must not, however, allow it to end with simply restoring what used to be. We must resolutely draw up a new shape for a Japan that has overcome this infectious disease – a new, one that we can call a "post-corona" future.

While we are currently accelerating the development of therapeutic medicines and vaccines to overcome this infectious disease, another, as-yet-unknown virus could emerge tomorrow. The threat of the next global pandemic is not something of the imagination but rather a real issue. We must get to work immediately building a nation that is resilient to infectious diseases.

Recently, teleworking became popularized all at once. It has now become the norm for various kinds of meetings to be held over the Internet rather than face to face. Physical distances no longer restrict us; it is possible to have an office anywhere, or live anywhere. We must not allow this new tide to flow backward; instead, we must accelerate it.

At the same time, with people being strongly urged to avoid the three Cs, the richness of daily life in rural areas is once again receiving greater attention. Some surveys reveal that currently among young people in their 20s, the number of people hoping to change jobs to areas outside the major cities is increasing significantly. Away from concentration, towards dispersion. I believe that this infectious disease has provided a major trigger that fundamentally changes the shape of the Japanese archipelago or the landscape of our country. Looking ahead to the age of the coronavirus and the future beyond that, we will boldly envisage a new vision of society and a new vision of the nation. We will expand the Council on Investments for the Future and begin discussions next month with a wide variety of members participating.

As we create new goals, we intend to clear away various obstacles, one by one. I believe that now is the time to build a new post-corona Japan and we must do it now. The threat of a pandemic had been pointed out in the past. And yet, we must admit that Japan was not sufficiently prepared for it. The importance of teleworking and other such changes had also been pointed out for many years, and yet no progress had been made at all. Those are the facts. "In fair weather, prepare for foul." I believe this is the greatest lesson illustrated by the crisis posed by this infectious disease.

The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has already put forth, as a draft for discussion, revised text on four items aimed at amending the Constitution, including a state-of-emergency clause. I realize that various opinions exist regarding our party's proposal as a means of preparing for a state of emergency. We intend to advance these texts while listening to the views of the various parties and party factions. The LDP welcomes constructive discussions and consultations.

However, during the Diet session that just ended, unfortunately, there was again no progress at all on discussions on draft amendments within the Diet's Commissions on the Constitution. We will bring a resolution to the issues now before us, putting them off under no circumstances. This is our responsibility as politicians.

This week, we took the decision to suspend the process of deploying the Aegis Ashore ballistic missile defense system. Given that the premise on which our explanations to local communities were based is now different, we must not proceed any further as proposed. That is the decision we reached. Meanwhile, the security environment surrounding Japan is becoming more and more severe. There has been no change whatsoever in the current state of affairs. Tensions on the Korean Peninsula are now becoming increasingly strained. We will secure the lives and peaceful daily lives of the Japanese people from the threat of ballistic missiles. That is the most important responsibility of the government. We must never allow a gap to arise in our nation's defenses. Peace is not something granted to us by others; it is something we earn through our own efforts. The basis of security policy is none other than Japan's own efforts. What should we do to reinforce our deterrence or our capacity to deal with security matters? What should we do in order to defend Japan to the end? This summer, we intend to thoroughly discuss at the National Security Council our national security strategy, hammer out a new direction, and implement it expeditiously.

I will end my opening statement here.