"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 18, 2021
[Source] Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet
[Notes] Provisional Translation
[Full text]

Just now we convened a meeting of the Novel Coronavirus Response Headquarters, whereupon we took the decision to lift the declaration of a state of emergency in Saitama, Chiba, Tokyo, and Kanagawa Prefectures as of March 21.

Until now, pinpointed countermeasures, with the shortening of operating hours for dining and drinking establishments at their core, have achieved great results. The number of cases of new infections in the four prefectures has decreased by more than 80 percent, from 4,277 on January 7 to 725 yesterday. In Tokyo, the number dropped from 2,520 to 323 today, with that figure staying 40 consecutive days below the 500 persons per day threshold that has been set as the standard for lifting the declaration. Even in Chiba Prefecture, where the availability of hospital beds had been under strain for some time, the number of hospitalized patients has decreased day by day, bringing the hospital bed occupancy ratio to under 40 percent, below the 50 percent occupancy rate threshold for lifting the declaration. I have stated that we will extend the declaration for two weeks and then make a determination after carefully examining the state of hospital bed occupancy rates and other such factors, and with the targeted standards now being met in a stable manner, today we took the decision to lift the declaration.

I express my profound 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 and businesses.

However, given that there are some areas where the numbers of cases of new infections have remained at the same level or are in a slightly upward trend, and people have been heading out in increasing numbers, there is concern about a rebound occurring. We must also be vigilant against a spread of coronavirus variants. For these reasons, it is an important time right now, as we lift the declaration, and we will continue to take thoroughgoing countermeasures through further cooperation between the national and local governments, based on the circumstances in each area.

We will comprehensively coordinate not only what we have asked of you, the public, that you have managed to hold out thus far, but also our cooperation with local governments and coordination between government offices under my direction, and implement measures that are effective.

I request sincerely that, regarding the basic infection prevention measures that we have learned from our experiences to date, including wearing masks, washing our hands, and avoiding the three Cs [of closed spaces, crowded places, and close-contact settings], the citizens share these practices in common throughout society and continue to carry them out.

In addition, we will exhaustively apply measures focused on high-risk settings such as dining out or drinking and customary events. The Government will enhance its provision of information and convey necessary information and guidance on preventing infections in ways that are easy to understand. We will simultaneously press forward in our efforts to prevent prejudice and discrimination.

In conjunction with lifting the declaration, we have decided on comprehensive countermeasures. Comprising five pillars, they will help to prevent a resurgence of infections. The Government will work in close cooperation with local governments to implement them steadily.

The first pillar among our countermeasures is preventing infections while dining and drinking. Based on our experiences to date, the central focus of this measure is dining and drinking occasions where people remove their masks and converse with each other. In the four capital region prefectures, the operating hours of dining and drinking establishments will continue to be shortened until 9 PM by means of requests made by each prefectural government, with assistance of 40,000 yen per day. It will also be critical for these establishments to adhere to the guidelines regarding spacing between seats and ventilation. The four prefectures combined are making the rounds of approximately 10,000 inspections per day and we will further enhance these measures.

We ask that whenever possible, dining should take place within families or in groups no larger than four. We are heading into the season for graduation ceremonies, school entrance ceremonies, welcome and send-off parties, and the like, but we ask people to refrain from dining in large groups. We will send these messages out intensively at an unprecedented scale, making use of not only television commercials but also social networking services (SNS), the Internet, videos, and all other mediums, to ensure that they are received by people in a wide range of generations.

The second pillar is responding to coronavirus variants. In order to strengthen our domestic surveillance structure, we are screening positive cases in every prefecture. We will raise the sampling ratio from the current 10 percent to about 40 percent, deduce the variants, and trace the source of infections meticulously to contain the spread of infections. We will also bolster our border control measures by managing the total number of persons entering the country through restrictions on the number of passengers aboard airline flights.

The third pillar is implementing strategic testing to discern signs of infections spreading. We will gradually implement a significant expansion of our monitoring surveys of asymptomatic individuals in our major large cities. Already underway in entertainment districts, train stations, and other locations, they will be conducted at a scale of roughly 5,000 per day next month. Furthermore, regarding elderly care facilities and other establishments, by the end of this month we will conduct testing at some 30,000 facilities, and beginning next month we will carry out more intensive testing regularly.

The fourth pillar is administering vaccines in a safe and speedy manner. We are moving forward in our preparations under the thinking that vaccines will serve as the decisive factor as we battle the virus, including variants, and that we must make them available to all citizens at the earliest possible time. Although some side reactions have been reported, according to an evaluation by the experts, they have all been relatively mild and are being treated appropriately, and they are now improving. We have been moving forward smoothly with the priority inoculation of medical practitioners, with vaccinations now being given at a scale of roughly 80,000 people daily.

From April 12, priority vaccination of the elderly will begin. And, we expect that by the end of June we will be able to secure a minimum of 100 million doses. This is an amount sufficient to cover all medical practitioners and elderly persons. We will be thorough in providing information so that everyone is able to get inoculated with a sense of security.

And, the fifth pillar is reinforcing the medical structure in preparation for the next wave of infections. During the current wave, we were unable to respond adequately to a rapid spread in infections, resulting in the number of hospital beds for coronavirus patients and the number of medical staff being insufficient in multiple locations. In each prefecture, we are making preparations so that we are able to respond to sharp increases in infections like those we experienced during the current wave. We will create a system in which infected persons can recuperate effectively by assigning roles to hospital beds for coronavirus patients, hospital beds that will accept recovering patients, hotels for patients with mild symptoms, and home recuperation.

Together with these comprehensive measures, we will also provide tailored assistance to the greatest possible extent even after the declaration is lifted, including liquidity support, Employment Adjustment Subsidies, and the like. The day before yesterday, we compiled urgent assistance measures for those whose daily lives or employment has been seriously impacted. Even amid these severe circumstances, we consider children, who hold the keys to our future, to be a top priority, and we will provide 50,000 yen in benefits per child to single-parent and low-income households raising children. For those whose income is lower than a certain threshold, we will expand the scope of people eligible for job training with a 100,000 yen per month benefit. Among these, we will double the number of people receiving training in digital fields, to 5,000. As for the Special Loans from Emergency Small Funds and other programs, we will continue to extend new loans even after April, and beginning next year, households not subject to resident taxes will be exempted from repayment. We will provide 6 billion yen in new assistance to non-profit organizations and others conducting activities out in the field in the gaps that exist between government policies, including such areas as suicide prevention, Kodomo Shokudo, and child protection. Furthermore, we will urgently compile financial response measures to assist with business continuity for dining and drinking establishments and others that have shouldered a great deal of employment until now.

As we lift the declaration of a state of emergency this time, I have reminded myself yet again of our determination not to allow the spread of infections again. As each member of the public takes action mindful of the situation, we will expand our testing. And, against this backdrop of people taking action while being alert to the situation, we will thoroughly implement measures to catch any rebound at the very earliest stages and strengthen the medical treatment structure while suppressing the onset of symptoms and the development of severe symptoms through administration of the vaccine, thereby protecting people's lives and health. As we ask the citizens to accept various restrictions, the Government will work in unity with the local governments to do everything in our power to combat the virus.

The battle against the coronavirus in the world is still being waged. And as this battle rages on, there are things that we have learned over this one-year period. Above all, we have vaccines as a weapon. Even at times when we take one step forward and one step back, we will never fail to see the light shining before us. With that thinking, I will stand at the fore and do my utmost, ready to defend the lives and livelihoods of the Japanese people to the very end. I ask sincerely for the understanding and cooperation of the citizens.

I will end my opening statement here.