"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] April 23, 2021
[Source] Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet
[Notes] Provisional Translation
[Full text]

[Opening Statement]

Having just now convened a meeting of the Novel Coronavirus Response Headquarters, I have taken the decision to declare a state of emergency.

The declaration will cover Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and Hyogo Prefectures and will be in effect from April 25 to May 11. Also, as for areas implementing priority measures, such as for prevention of the spread of disease, I made the decision to newly add Ehime Prefecture for that duration, while extending the period to May 11 in Miyagi and Okinawa Prefectures.

The number of cases of new infections nationwide has continued to rise since last month, and the number of patients with severe symptoms is also climbing rapidly. The number of new infections in Osaka and Hyogo is at a high level even within what is called "Stage 4," and their medical systems are now in a more severe state than ever before. The rate of increase in the number of cases of new infections in Tokyo and Kyoto is increasing daily and has now reached the level of what is called "Stage 4." What is of particular concern is the trend seen in variants of the coronavirus. The proportion of those testing positive for variants has grown to roughly 80 percent in Osaka and Hyogo, approximately 70 percent in Kyoto, and about 30 percent in Tokyo, necessitating a high level of vigilance. If we sit here and do nothing, allowing the situation to progress, the spread of infections occurring in the major cities potentially extending nationwide would be of great concern.

Against this backdrop, it is imperative that we once again issue a declaration of a state of emergency and suppress the vigor of this virus by implementing effective measures intensively over a short period, by taking advantage of the opportunity presented by Golden Week, with many people beginning a holiday period. That is the judgment we arrived at. I have been saying I will make every possible effort to avoid reaching the point of issuing of another declaration, but we now find ourselves in the current situation, resulting in us causing inconvenience upon a large number of people again. I apologize wholeheartedly for that.

Under this new declaration, we will implement comprehensive measures targeting dining and drinking, which are central among the sources of infection, beyond only nighttime hours. We will simultaneously implement measures to a more in-depth degree than ever in order to curb the flow of people within major cities and movement between cities, thereby reducing the contact between people.

First of all, we will have dining and drinking establishments refrain from serving alcohol. It has been pointed out before that there is a high risk of infection at dining and drinking occasions at which alcohol is served, as these tend to go on for a long time and people often speak loudly. We request dining and drinking establishments to shorten their operating hours to 8 PM and additionally suspend the serving of alcohol throughout the entire day. We also ask people to take adequate care to ensure that drinking alcohol outside of dining and drinking establishments, such as alongside the road, does not lead to the spread of infections. We also request that karaoke be suspended.

Second are measures to curb the flow of people and reduce the opportunities for people to come into contact with others, in order to decrease infection levels further. Experts have pointed out that it is possible for infections to be triggered by the person-to-person contact that arises when we go out. We request department stores, theme parks, and other facilities where large numbers of people are expected to come together, including commercial facilities and amusement facilities surpassing a certain size, to close temporarily. In addition, we ask that events and sporting events be held without spectators. In conjunction with that, we urge the public to refrain from non-essential, non-urgent outings as well as trips to or from areas where infections have been spreading, including returning to hometowns or sightseeing, to the greatest possible extent. Moreover, we ask that teleworking and leave time be used so that the number of people commuting to work is reduced by 70 percent compared to a typical year.

There are a great many people who have continued their businesses thus far observing the guidelines and implemented measures to prevent the spread of infections. Although these measures will be in place for a limited period, asking for compliance with the in-depth measure of closing temporarily truly pains me deeply. I consider it extremely regrettable.

However, one element lying in the background to the severe countermeasures being implemented this time is the fact that infections are spreading among young people. An extreme battle also continues to be fought in our medical facilities. Having society share the awareness of controlling infections among the younger generation and preventing the spread to high-risk elderly people is something that is strongly called for now.

Moreover, clusters have become increasingly diverse, with occurrences reported across a wide range of settings, including not only welfare facilities, medical institutions, and dining and drinking facilities but also workplaces and university club activities. In addition to regular testing at welfare and other facilities, I ask that each of us act with a sense of awareness, thoroughly implementing the basic precautionary measures of wearing masks, washing our hands, and avoiding the three Cs [of closed spaces, crowded spaces, and close-contact settings].

Under this declaration, there will be dining and drinking establishments, lodging facilities, commercial facilities, and others which will unavoidably suffer serious impacts. We will ensure that liquidity support measures are fully reliable, so that no disruptions occur when they continue their businesses, and at the Novel Coronavirus Response Headquarters meeting just now, I instructed my entire cabinet to respond to this situation swiftly. We will also make use of Employment Adjustment Subsidies to safeguard employment, and we will protect people's daily lives through the Emergency Small-Amount Fund and other means. Dining and drinking establishments subject to temporary closures or shortened business hours will continue to receive support via payments for cooperating with our requests, in proportion to the size of the business. As for our request to large-scale facilities to close temporarily, we will provide support through a newly created payment to cooperating businesses, which will be rendered in addition to Employment Adjustment Subsidies, with shops located within the facilities' premises also eligible. We will also newly pay out a lump sum to businesses whose sales decrease dramatically because of a drop in foot traffic as a result of the declaration. We will also provide assistance to operators of lodging businesses in taking infection prevention and other measures. Beyond that, we will take measures to provide 500 billion yen in extraordinary grants to boost assistance to business owners being provided by prefectural governments.

Osaka Prefecture faces an ongoing critical situation in its medical facilities. Working in tandem, the national and local governments have been coordinating the securing of hospital beds, and we expect to obtain additional capacity of close to 400 beds. We have also newly secured some 200 nurses from all over Japan, including those to be dispatched over a wide area. The national and local governments will continue to act in cooperation and do everything we can to uphold the capacity of the medical system.

Vaccinations have begun. We are determined to do everything in our capacity to enable many people to receive the vaccination quickly. We will first and foremost urgently finish vaccinating healthcare professionals. And, by the end of the Golden Week holiday period, we will distribute some seven million doses to local authorities nationwide, to be followed by roughly ten million doses distributed weekly, resulting in a total of 100 million doses being distributed by the end of June. Having said that, regarding the vaccination schedule, the Government will make efforts to ensure that each local government is able to finish administering the second dose of the vaccine to all elderly persons desiring it, with the end of July in mind.

We will enable the dispatch of nurses to vaccination centers around the country and the administration of vaccines by dentists to ensure these centers have adequate human resources, which has been an issue for a number of local governments. During my recent visit to the United States, I made a request to the CEO of Pfizer, and we now have good prospects for definitely being able to supply vaccines to all recipients by September this year. Mindful of the state of vaccination of the elderly, we will work to swiftly inoculate everyone needing them.

The battle against the novel coronavirus is, even in the international arena, a case of one step forward and one step back, and how the virus that repeatedly and unexpectedly mutates would work are completely impossible to predict. However, we do have the collection of knowledge we have learned in the course of the fight waged thus far. We also have the weapon of the vaccine. I am firmly convinced that the end will certainly come into view, even for this severe struggle. First I ask sincerely for everyone's cooperation towards the new countermeasures, which consist of suspending the serving of alcohol and restraining the flow of people, based on the declaration of a state of emergency.

I will make all possible efforts, doing everything in my capacity as Prime Minister, including cooperation with local governments, the securing of hospital bed capacity, and the administration of vaccines, so that we are able to overcome this crisis and restore our day-to-day lives in which enjoy peace of mind. I ask for the understanding of the people toward this end.

Thank you very much.