"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] February 2, 2021
[Source] Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet
[Notes] Provisional Translation
[Full text]

[Opening Statement]

Just now I convened a meeting of the Novel Coronavirus Response Headquarters. We have decided to extend the declaration of the state of emergency for one month, to March 7, in Saitama, Chiba, Tokyo, Kanagawa, Gifu, Aichi, Kyoto, Osaka, Hyogo, and Fukuoka Prefectures, while lifting it in Tochigi Prefecture as of February 7.

I express my appreciation to all my fellow citizens for the cooperation you have extended to us thus far. I also wish to convey my regret that we are not able to lift the declaration of the state of emergency in all the areas subject to it.

In addition, there was an incident of a state minister -- a member of my Cabinet -- and Diet members belonging to my party dining out until late at night. It is entirely unacceptable and I offer my sincere apology for the matter.

Here we have plotted on a graph the transition in the number of new infection cases nationwide, and also for Tokyo only. I will show that to you now.

As for new cases nationwide, there were 7,721 on January 7, the day we issued the declaration. This subsequently transitioned into a decline, and yesterday, February 1, there were 1,783 new cases. In Tokyo, there were 2,447 new cases on January 7, after which the number dropped significantly, to 393 yesterday, February 1, and 556 today. As you see, we are beginning to see the apparent impacts of the measures we have taken to date as well as the cooperation extended to us by all of you. At this stage, we must get this downward trend of infections firmly established somehow, through further efforts made by the citizens. That is our judgement.

During the extension period to follow, we will continue the streamlined measures in place thus far, centered on shortening the operating hours of dining and drinking establishments. It is critical that we sustain the downward trend we already achieved in new case numbers by firmly implementing these measures, while also reducing the numbers of patients hospitalized and patients with severe symptoms. Whatever it may take, we want to restore our day-to-day lives in which everyone enjoys peace of mind. In March, schools will have graduation ceremonies and spring vacation will also start. For prefectures that intensively implement the measures and see their situation improve, we will lift the declaration of a state of emergency, without waiting for the declaration to be lifted on March 7. We will cooperate with local governments in making all possible efforts to ensure that necessary medical treatments are provided. Although we are asking you, my fellow citizens, to go through some hardship by having many limitations on your daily lives, I would like to ask for your cooperation now once more.

With regard to the ten prefectures subject to this extension, there are some areas where it is hard to say that the number of cases is declining sufficiently. Moreover, in many areas the local medical systems continue to be considerably stretched. Moving forward, we intend to ask the relevant authorities to reinforce the measures now in place so as to ensure that the number of infections declines.

Regarding the number of new infection cases, the hospital bed occupancy ratio, and related matters, we will work to improve these indicators to be consistent with Stage 3, our near-term goal. For new cases, that means dropping below 500 per day for Tokyo and 300 per day for Osaka. In addition, it is imperative to see improvements in hospital bed occupancy rates, which are currently very tight.

I ask everyone to diligently implement the measures of shortening the operating hours of dining and drinking establishments until 8 PM, refraining from going out for non-essential, non-urgent reasons, further expanding teleworking, and limiting the number of people attending public events. Guidelines for dining and drinking establishments have already been compiled from some time ago regarding the appropriate spacing to maintain between seats and other matters, and I ask for your ongoing observance of those guidelines.

In areas where the declaration of the state of emergency will remain in effect, I ask once again that the residents thoroughly observe those measures. For prefectures where these measures show effects in a more clear-cut manner and the situation improves from its current state, we will lift the declaration as soon as the situation permits, without waiting for the declaration to be lifted on March 7.

The Diet is currently deliberating amendments to the Act on Special Measures for Pandemic Influenza and New Infectious Diseases Preparedness and Response and the Act on the Prevention of Infectious Diseases and Medical Care for Patients with Infectious Diseases. Thanks to the efforts of all involved in the ruling and opposition parties, the amendments will make it possible to introduce assistance and administrative penalties in an integrated manner. I would like to continue to ask the Diet to advance its deliberations expeditiously.

To ensure all those needing medical treatment, particularly patients with severe symptoms, can receive appropriate medical care, we will make our utmost efforts to secure sufficient medical capacity to accommodate them. We will certainly extend support to relevant entities so that there is no reluctance on the part of medical institutions on financial grounds, and also so that medical facilities accepting novel coronavirus patients do not incur financial losses. Over the past month, in Tokyo, the national and metropolitan governments worked in cooperation to increase the number of hospital beds designated for novel coronavirus patients from 3,000 to roughly 5,000. Even if the number of new infection cases decreases, the number of patients requiring hospitalization will not decline for a while. We will continue to work to tackle the situation without letting up in our efforts.

As for vaccines, the other day we concluded contracts to receive a supply of 314 million doses from three companies. With regard to when to start administering vaccines, I have been saying that vaccination will start by late February at latest. We have been working hard, wanting to deliver them as soon as possible; we now intend to begin administering them in mid-February, following the confirmation of their safety and efficacy. We will begin with medical professionals and proceed with vaccinating the elderly from April. The Government will make all-out efforts to advance preparations. We will move forward swiftly in providing local governments with as much information as possible and the national government will cover all necessary expenses associated with the vaccines. We will also provide information on the effects, side effects, and other relevant information concerning the vaccines in a manner that is easy to understand so that everyone is able to get vaccination without any concerns.

With regard to new coronavirus variants, we will strengthen the system enabling rapid variant verification and maintain our vigilance with a strong sense of urgency. The necessary response for countering these new variants is the same as that for dealing with the original variants. I ask everyone to put into practice the basic preventive measures of wearing a mask, washing your hands, and avoiding the three Cs (closed spaces, crowded spaces, and close-contact settings) even more thoroughly than before.

As the impacts of the novel coronavirus become prolonged, the Government has been providing assistance never seen before in an all-out manner. But even so, we hear some say that they have yet to receive such assistance. We will use the Emergency Small-Amount Fund and other schemes to respond to those who are struggling to cover their living expenses. We will now increase the credit amount from 1.4 million yen to 2.0 million yen. Those whose incomes have dropped will be exempted from having to repay the funds. We have the Housing Security Benefit set up for those having trouble paying their rent because of a decline in their income. By making the funding from this benefit scheme available once again, we can provide assistance for an additional three months' rent. We are also examining issues facing non-regular employees working for major corporations, such as the companies failing to pay them leave allowances or Employment Adjustment Subsidies not being fully utilized. We will respond to such matters firmly and expeditiously. Keeping the views of the ruling parties in mind, we will use this kind of multilayered safety net to sustain businesses, protect people's jobs and livelihoods, and assist those facing hardship.

As a result of the measures undertaken until now, the number of new infection cases has decreased, making the effects unmistakable. This is also the fruit of cooperation extended to us by each and every citizen. With regard to the upcoming one-month extension as well, we will redouble our efforts to carry out the measures already underway and thoroughly provide assistance to those impacted by our measures.

A sizable number of young people who are asymptomatic or exhibiting only mild symptoms are causing infections to spread when they head out of the house, or dine out or go drinking. These infections are transcending generational lines, spreading now to the elderly as well. There are also cases of young people developing severe symptoms. In addition, there are reports of so-called aftereffects of the coronavirus disease even without causal pathways being identified. I sincerely urge you to think of others as if they were yourself.

Have your meals quietly in small groups, with family members or with people you are always around. Refrain from going out for non-essential or non-urgent reasons. Don't converse with others unless you have a mask on. By each one of us changing our behavior, we will succeed in significantly reducing the number of infections even further.

A year has now passed since the novel coronavirus first emerged. The battle with the virus is still ongoing, both in Japan and all around the world. I too am mulling over various concerns day after day as I go about my work.

In order to dispel my fellow citizens' unease as much as possible, I am determined to pursue all possible measures in dealing with the virus and will devote all my efforts to tackling this issue.

I would like to ask your cooperation now once more.