"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] January 7, 2021
[Source] Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet
[Notes] Provisional Translation
[Full text]

[Opening Statement]

I just convened a meeting of the Novel Coronavirus Response Headquarters, whereupon the decision to declare a state of emergency was made. The declaration applies to the four prefectures of Tokyo, Chiba, Saitama, and Kanagawa and has a duration of one month. We will firstly shorten the operating hours of dining and drinking establishments until 8 PM; secondly, we will have the number of people commuting to their workplaces decrease by 70 percent through teleworking; thirdly, we will ask the public to refrain from going out after 8 PM for non-essential or non-urgent reasons; fourthly, we will limit the number of people attending sports events or concerts.

Since November, acting in accordance with the experts' views, we have gradually suspended the Go To Travel campaign, while requesting dining and drinking establishments to curtail their hours of operation. The results have been apparent in areas that have shortened their operating hours: we have been successful in holding down the spread of infections in those areas.

The epicenter of infections is the four prefectures subject to this declaration. Over the past two weeks, roughly half the new cases of infection nationwide have been concentrated in these four prefectures. Since the New Year's holiday period through to today, the number of new infections has been extremely high, and we have a profound sense of urgency as the situation is severe, with, for example, Tokyo surpassing 2,400 new cases today.

Against that backdrop, we will do everything in our capacity to put a stop to the further spread of infections and shift infections into a declining trend. It is for that reason that we have taken the decision to declare this state of emergency. Based on that resolve, we will thoroughly implement measures, targeting the areas that are effective in this regard. We will carry out thoroughgoing measures on the basis of the experiences we have garnered by fighting against this virus over close to a year.

Among those areas, the infection risk resulting from dining and drinking is the first point to raise. In Tokyo, while the route of transmission is unknown in 60 percent of cases, our experts have pointed out that dining and drinking are the cause of many of those cases. In implementing the declaration we issued today, we will exhaustively push to have dining and drinking establishments shorten their operating hours to 8 PM, with alcohol to be served only up to 7 PM. Today's amendment of relevant government ordinances also empowers governors to disclose the names of establishments that do not act in accordance with their requests. But in saying this, a great many operators have been cooperating with the request for shortened business hours for more than a month already, and I imagine that they are facing a pressing business environment. For that reason, we will increase the amount of assistance provided to operators cooperating with our requests, with the Government to provide funds of up to 1.8 million yen per month to each establishment cooperating with the curtailing of hours to 8 PM in the four affected prefectures.

Other than limiting the operating hours of dining and drinking establishments, we will also hammer out effective measures to reduce infections. The first among these is teleworking. When people go to the workplace, it is only natural that opportunities such as eating and talking with coworkers will increase. I ask that the number of people coming to the office be reduced by 70 percent so as to decrease the number of those interactions as much as possible. We intend to promote teleworking vigorously so that the new ways of working that have just started to take hold in society since last year will be advanced further and the same ways of working are made available in both urban and non-urban areas.

In addition, in order to avoid infection risks that include nighttime dining and drinking as well as the conversations associated with them, we ask people to refrain from outings after 8 PM for non-essential, non-urgent reasons. I very much hope that the citizens observe this with the greatest care and perseverance.

Moreover, as for sporting events, concerts, and so on, we will request tighter restrictions on the number of people who can attend, setting a maximum capacity of 5,000 attendees across the board, and we ask attendees to refrain from eating or drinking in the venue.

With regard to schools, to date there have been practically no cases reported that infections spread from schools into the community. In light of that, we intend to protect learning opportunities for children, who hold the keys to our future. Under this declaration, we are not asking any schools to close temporarily, whether they be elementary or junior high schools, senior high schools, universities, kindergartens, or nursery schools. We request universities to integrate in-person teaching and online lectures in an effective manner.

Since last year, even as cases of the novel coronavirus infections were spreading, Japan's unemployment rate was most recently 2.9 percent. This continues to be the lowest level of any major economy. Safeguarding employment is the responsibility vested to politicians. Going forward, we will continue to protect employment and carry on with our efforts prioritizing business continuity. We are providing Employment Adjustment Subsidies of up to 15,000 yen per day when businesses are temporarily closed, aiming at supporting to support workers, including part-time and non-regular employees, whose workplaces are temporarily closed. Since last year, households have borrowed about 500 billion yen in total of the Emergency Small-Amount Fund, which provides funds of up to 1.4 million yen for those who are short of cash on hand. Interest-free unsecured loans up to 40 million yen are also being provided by the Japan Finance Corporation and other institutions. We have prepared adequate financial resources for this. We will streamline procedures so that people can more readily make use of it.

Going forward, following the relevant measures being implemented under this declaration of a state of emergency, we will proceed step by step, amending the special measures law and then administering a vaccine at an early date. We will first and foremost do everything in our capacity to stop the spread of infections and shift the trend into a decline by implementing effective measures under the declaration of a state of emergency. We will swiftly exit from so-called Stage 4, which the experts regard as the level for declaring a state of emergency. We will decide based on indicators that include hospital bed capacity and the number of cases of new infections. Furthermore, we intend to amend the special measures law to enable more effective measures by institutionalizing coercive power through the use of penalties and other means. We will accelerate discussions on the content of the bill and submit it to the Diet at an early time. On top of that, regarding vaccines, which will serve as the decisive factor as we battle the virus, we will make preparations to begin administering the vaccine by late February to the extent possible, after we assess its safety and efficacy following the compilation of clinical data by the pharmaceutical company, which has been moved up.

During this period, what is consistently important is the medical treatment structure. We will provide necessary medical treatment to those needing it. In the four prefectures subject to this declaration, where the availability of hospital beds is under strain, we will make it possible to increase substantially the number of beds allocated to coronavirus patients. Towards that end, for each bed newly assigned to coronavirus responses at private hospitals and other facilities, we will provide an additional subsidy of 4.5 million yen per bed on top of our existing support. By doing so, we will provide robust support of roughly 20 million yen per bed, in the case of beds for patients with severe symptoms. Additionally, we are fully prepared to dispatch medical treatment teams from the Self Defense Forces at any time, upon request from a prefectural governor.

Last but not least, I have a request for the citizens. I want to extend my heartfelt thanks to all of you for cooperating with self-restraint and responding to our requests that were painful during this battle against the coronavirus for almost a year. The wave of infections at a global scale we are now seeing has surpassed what we imagined, becoming something quite severe indeed. However, I am absolutely certain we will overcome this situation. To make that a reality, I have no choice but to ask you to accept limitations over your daily lives once more.

We have learned a great deal through our experiences this past year. The important thing is asking you to always wear a mask when speaking to others. And furthermore, if we can diligently implement in particular the three points of eating out in moderation, having 70 percent of employees teleworking, and refraining from non-essential, non-urgent outings after 8 PM, then we will undoubtedly succeed in containing infections.

There is something else I would like to say to young people. More than half of the recent cases of infection in the four prefectures subject to the declaration are young people in their 30s or below. For such people, even if they do contract the virus, they do not exhibit severe symptoms. But the reality is that infections caught by young people lead to a further spread of infection. I sincerely ask you to take actions thinking of others as if they were yourself, transcending generations in order to protect the precious lives of your parents and grandparents, your family members, your friends, and others.

A month from now, we will certainly have improved the state of affairs. To ensure this, I myself as prime minister will make every possible effort to prevent the spread of infection, taking all available measures. I will end my opening remarks with my appreciation to the citizens for the cooperation you have given us until now and my request that you will once again extend your cooperation to us.