"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] March 5, 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, whereupon I took the decision to extend the declaration of a state of emergency in Saitama, Chiba, Tokyo, and Kanagawa Prefectures for two weeks, until March 21.

Significant effects have become noticeable since January, when the declaration was made. The number of cases of new infections nationwide has fallen by more than 80 percent. In Tokyo, there have been several days in succession when the daily number of infections dropped below 500, the threshold for lifting the declaration, with 301 new infections today. There has also been continuous decreases in the numbers of hospitalized patients and patients with severe symptoms. This is entirely the result of citizens' renewed efforts and their coming together to do their best to work towards our goal, achieved without harsh declarations like those in various other countries. I express my heartfelt appreciation for the devoted efforts made by all those involved in medical care, nursing care, and other relevant fields, as well as for the cooperation of the public.

As for lifting the declaration, I have said that I would render a decision taking the number of new infection cases, the hospital bed occupancy ratio, and other such indicators as references. Most indicators for the four capital region prefectures meet the criteria we originally sought to achieve. However, we continue to see severe situations, such as areas having high hospital bed occupancy ratios. And, while we have seen a declining trend in the number of cases of new infections, the speed at which the number is decreasing has slowed down. Some areas have increasing numbers of people heading out of the house, also leading to rising concerns of a so-called rebound occurring. Two weeks are the period necessary to hold down a spread in infections and confirm the situation more carefully. Taking such points into account in a level-headed and comprehensive manner, I as prime minister have made the decision to extend the declaration. It is truly regrettable that we were unable to lift the declaration by March 7, the date I originally pledged. I apologize for that sincerely.

We will act in cooperation with local governments to thoroughly implement effective efforts such as shortening the operating hours of dining and drinking establishments, refraining from going out for non-essential, non-urgent reasons, and encouraging teleworking. Furthermore, in order to detect infections at elderly care facilities and elsewhere at an early time and prevent clusters from arising, we will conduct testing at approximately 30,000 facilities by the end of March. In addition, monitoring surveys of asymptomatic individuals have now begun in Tochigi Prefecture in order to trace intra-community acquisitions, and going forward we will expand the scale, conducting these surveys in major cities as well.

What is particularly high risk is having meals or going drinking, when people speak to each other a lot with their masks removed, and we have also come to understand that such settings should form the crux of our measures. Spring is a time for graduation ceremonies, school entrance ceremonies, welcome and send-off parties, and other major junctures in our lives. It also brings many opportunities for people to gather, such as for cherry blossom viewing. It has also been pointed out that infections spread at the end of 2020 because of the effect of year-end parties, so this spring, we ask the public to refrain from dining together in large groups, even for those occasions. In the areas where the declaration has already been lifted, there too we ask that people dine with family members only whenever possible, or in groups no greater than four. We will work hard to make these measures well-publicized, from now making use of not only television commercials but also social networking services (SNS) and videos in order to also reach the younger generation. As for whether or not dining and drinking facilities are observing measures to prevent infections, we will further enhance our measures' effectiveness by reinforcing our inspections, in cooperation with local authorities. We are also hearing the earnest voices of business operators saying that it is difficult to continue doing business. The Government will continue to provide as much assistance as possible.

Regarding matters requiring coordination with ministries and agencies and local governments, such as securing a sufficient number of hospital beds, I will stand at the fore as we resolve these issues by overcoming the vertical segmentation of ministries and agencies.

Last month we began administering the vaccine to medical practitioners. Soon afterwards I went to observe the inoculations, and people working in medical facilities told me that they want many people to get vaccinated at an early time so that they can carry out their jobs with a sense of assurance. From the perspective of protecting our medical front lines as well, I felt keenly once again that vaccines will serve as a light of hope. While we initially estimated that 3.7 million medical practitioners would be vaccinated, the number wanting to be inoculated exceeded that figure by more than 1 million. Moreover, from April 12 we will begin vaccinating elderly people nationwide, and then from the end of April we will expand the scale significantly, working to make the vaccine available at the earliest possible time to anyone in the public wishing to have it, as a trump card among our measures to fight infections. Thus far we have administered vaccinations to approximately 37,000 people. We will press forward in our preparations in cooperation with local governments while at the same time continuing to disseminate information that is easy for people to understand, including information on side reactions.

Regarding variants of the virus, although we have not identified any community spread, coronavirus variants have been confirmed in 19 prefectures since the end of 2020 and we must continue to be vigilant against them. From this month, we will conduct testing in every prefecture nationwide via a recently developed method that can detect variants in only a short time, thereby reinforcing our domestic surveillance structure. At the same time, as a new measure at our borders, we will prepare a system whereby we use daily video calls to confirm the situation of all returning Japanese nationals and re-entering foreign residents, in addition to location data from mobile phones, during the 14-day quarantine period.

As the battle against the novel coronavirus becomes increasingly prolonged, business operations and people's daily lives are being seriously affected. Certain industries, including dining and drinking establishments, lodging facilities, and public transportation in local areas, have been facing particularly severe situations for quite some time. We will continue to provide the greatest possible assistance through funds to cover living expenses, Employment Adjustment Subsidies, and the like. In addition, to assist with liquidity, we have prepared sufficient funds as well as various kinds of assistance measures that correspond with the scale of the business and its particular situation. We will confer individually with business operators and respond in a conscientious manner.

In addition, I am deeply saddened by the fact that since last year, suicides have been increasing, especially among women, and it is a matter of great urgency that we have measures to respond to this. For female non-regular employees, single parents, and others facing difficulties in finding employment, we will dramatically expand opportunities for training in IT skills and other areas, providing assistance that is closely in touch with recipients' needs and, to the greatest possible degree, enables them to gain employment that is in line with their desires.

Moreover, as people continue to refrain from heading out, there are many people feeling anxious from undesired solitude or isolation. Upon listening to the urgent voices of representatives of volunteers supporting such people the other day, I felt acutely the necessity of society working as a whole to remedy this situation. I intend to actively provide assistance to groups conducting consultations to protect children and prevent suicide. Within March, I will convene a meeting of the relevant ministers to tackle these kinds of serious problems and we will compile a package of urgent assistance measures.

The battle against the coronavirus is also continuing around the world. However, compared to Europe and the United States, the number of cases of infections in Japan is strikingly low, and the number of unemployed is also at an extremely low level in the international context. This is the result of our citizens and business operators earnestly making their greatest possible efforts over the past year.

Now, what I as prime minister must do is make sure we do not lose any ground on the results we have attained thus far, prevent a rebound from occurring, and make it possible to lift the declaration. We are aware that while some have the view that the public's level of vigilance has started to wane, there are also people saying they cannot fight on any longer. Even as I contemplated this variety of viewpoints, I have taken the decision to implement our measures even more thoroughly.

Although it is extremely regrettable, I ask sincerely for the citizens to extend their cooperation to us further so that we can protect people's lives and livelihoods and restore our vibrant daily lives in which we enjoy peace of mind.

I will end my opening statement here.