"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] July 30, 2021
[Source] Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet
[Notes] Provisional Translation
[Full text]

[Opening Statement]

Just now we convened a meeting of the Novel Coronavirus Response Headquarters. We have decided to issue a declaration of a state of emergency for Saitama, Chiba, Kanagawa, and Osaka Prefectures, as well as implement priority measures to prevent the spread of disease in Hokkaido, Ishikawa, Kyoto, Hyogo, and Fukuoka Prefectures, lasting from August 2 to August 31 for both categories. We also decided to extend the declaration of a state of emergency until August 31 for Tokyo and Okinawa Prefectures.

The number of new infections nationwide continues to increase. There were more than 10,000 new infections nationwide yesterday, with the figure reaching 3,300 in Tokyo today. In many locations, notably the Greater Tokyo area and the Kansai area, there has been an ongoing trend towards increases in infections, with infections spreading at a speed we have never experienced before.

What has been pointed out as a major factor is the Delta strain, which even among the multiple variants has been raging internationally. It is said that the infectivity of the Delta strain is as high as 1.5 times that of the Alpha strain, which was the cause of the rise in infections in April, and in Tokyo over 70 percent of infections are of the Delta strain. We are concerned that as the transition to infections by the Delta variant advances quickly nationwide, the spread of infections will also advance further.

At the same time, looking at the infection situation in recent days, in the context of 73 percent of the elderly having already finished receiving two doses of the vaccine, we see characteristics that are clearly distinct from periods in which infections had spread until now. The number of new infections among those aged 65 or older in Tokyo has again today been limited to 82 persons, even amid infections spreading rapidly. The proportion of newly infected patients who were 65 or older had been, on a percentage basis, in the twenties until April, whereas now it has dropped to two-point-something percent. Accompanying this shift, we are seeing a certain level of suppression even of the increase in the number of patients with severe symptoms. The number of patients in Tokyo with severe symptoms requiring ventilators also remains at roughly half compared to January, and the occupancy ratio of hospital beds for such patients is being kept down to about 20 percent. We also find that, compared with the level in January, the number of people succumbing to the virus has also stayed at a considerably low level.

In this way, the effects of administering vaccinations appear very pronounced, but despite that, there are matters of strong concern. One is that infections are spreading rapidly among those in the young generation. In Tokyo, the proportion of new cases occurring in patients under 40 years old has reached 70 percent, and notably the number of cases among people in their 20s has surpassed 1,000 several days running. The number of patients with severe symptoms has followed an upward trend among those in their 40s and 50s and has now reached a level of 1.5 times the number of cases seen even in January. Should the increase in the number of patients continue in this way unabated, the number of patients with severe symptoms with increase further and the number of available hospital beds may come under strain. The way things stand at the moment, the rapid rise in the number of new infections also precipitates a significant strain on adjustments to hospital admissions managed by public health centers, while the number of people waiting at home [to see how their symptoms progress] is also increasing.

Taking this situation into account, I determined that we will take well-designed measures in each particular location while also pressing forward with administering vaccines, and in order to avoid putting the hospital bed occupancy ratio under strain, I made the decision to expand the geographical coverage and extend the period for both the declaration of a state of emergency and the priority measures to prevent the spread of disease.

I extend my heartfelt thanks to all the Japanese people for cooperating with our measures for a year and a half for the sake of our battle with a new infectious disease never experienced before.

Meanwhile, there is concern that "voluntary restraint burnout" will spread as the period for voluntary restraint gets increasingly prolonged. Especially among the young generation, we hear people say things such as, the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) isn't a disease they are scared of. And I imagine that many are also of the mind that they want to prioritize living a regular life and having fun over infection countermeasures. But what I want people to understand is that things have changed through the emergence of the Delta variant, such that even for those in the young generation, the risk of developing severe symptoms has increased, and that some people are suffering from considerable subsequent complications after becoming infected.

This is a request we have made of the public repeatedly, and it pains me terribly to ask it of you, but for a little while, until vaccinations demonstrate further effects, we ask each individual to maintain a high sense of vigilance and take careful, restrained actions while thoroughly implementing measures to counter infections.

Even in the case of the Delta virus variant, the crux of our measures to counter infections targets dining and drinking occasions in which there are many opportunities to talk with others without masks. The reality is that infections contracted at dining and drinking venues are spreading at workplaces, within the home, and so on. I ask once more that everyone thoroughly carry out the basic preventive measures of wearing masks, washing their hands, and avoiding the three Cs [of closed spaces, crowded spaces, and close-contact settings], and especially that people wear masks when talking with others.

We have been causing inconveniences for dining and drinking establishments for quite some time now. We will, at an early time, render payments to establishments that cooperate with our requests, while also working to create an environment in which establishments are able to cooperate with our requests, such as by swiftly settling, after a simplified screening, outstanding payments for cooperation rendered until now. At the same time, we will from now expand our patrols of dining and drinking establishments in each of the relevant prefectures, thereby boosting the effectiveness of the measures.

As we move further into summer vacation, we will begin the Obon holiday period, and we ask that people refrain from going out or traveling for non-essential, non-urgent reasons. We request that everyone act in an extremely careful and restrained manner -- should you need to go out, we urge you to make every possible effort to do so in small groups of either family members or people you regularly spend time with; should travel across prefectural lines be essential, for example to return to your hometown, we urge you to thoroughly carry out infection prevention measures and be certain to undergo testing. In addition, we ask that you refrain from roadside drinking with others, from dining with people you don't already meet regularly, or from dining or drinking in large groups or for extended periods of time.

Even with the Olympics getting underway, thanks to traffic restrictions, teleworking, and also the cooperation of the public, the flow of people through Tokyo's entertainment districts has been on the decline. In order to decrease the flow of people even further, we ask that you continue to show your support of the athletes at home by watching TV or through other media.

Our goal in our battle with COVID-19 is to protect the lives and the health of the people. What we need in order to do that is to maintain functioning medical structures in our local communities. Another is to make use of vaccinations, our trump card, and also effective pharmaceutical treatments to avoid the development of severe symptoms, which imparts significant burdens on hospitals. In line with this thinking, we have proceeded with vaccinations under a strategic schedule that included inoculating healthcare workers beginning in February this year and, since April, moving forward in vaccinating elderly persons over 65 years of age.

Fortunately, through the cooperation of a great many people all around the country, we are moving forward at a pace exceeding expectations, administering 1.3 million vaccine doses per day at local government vaccination centers and medical institutions and 200,000 doses per day at companies and universities. As a result, the total number of vaccine doses given until now, including those administered at companies and universities, is close to 90.0 million, and by the end of this month, close to 80 percent of all of the elderly are expected to complete their second dose. We will avoid clusters arising at hospitals and, now that we have reached our goal for vaccinations among the elderly, focus on inoculating persons in their 40s and 50s, who are at the next-highest risk level for developing severe symptoms, as well as persons in the young generation, in which infections are spreading greatly.

We will also work to advance the planned administration of vaccines by indicating to local governments nationwide at an early time the amount of vaccines to be distributed well into the future. Also, today the AstraZeneca vaccine was approved for use in people in their 40s or older. The Government has already secured 2.0 million doses and we will supply this quickly to local governments and others wanting them.

Against this backdrop, we will work to have more than 40 percent of the population completing both doses by the end of this month and make every possible effort to restore a new normal. We will additionally work to send out accurate information regarding the vaccine. I urge even those in the young generation to cooperate in getting vaccinated by all means, in order to protect their own health and to protect their cherished family members and friends.

There has also been a great development regarding pharmaceutical treatments. Until now, there has not been an effective pharmaceutical treatment for patients with mild or moderate symptoms, but on July 19 we approved a revolutionary pharmaceutical treatment that slashes the risk of such patients developing severe symptoms by 70 percent. Some 2,000 medical institutions nationwide hoping to use this treatment have already registered, and we will deliver it in good order upon request. The Government has secured an adequate amount of this neutralizing antibody drug, so in addition to patients over 50 years old, we will actively supply it to those with underlying conditions, with a view to suppressing the development of severe symptoms.

We will additionally make use of various screening techniques and prepare a system in which people who become ill can feel at ease when getting tested at a nearby facility.

As for when the declaration of a state of emergency will end, we will make an appropriate determination by considering the state of vaccine administration, coupled with concrete analyses focused on the load upon our medical systems, such as the number of patients with severe symptoms and the hospital bed occupancy ratio. Moreover, we will lay out a course forward towards relaxing restrictions on socioeconomic activities.

Between now and the end of August, the Government, determined that this declaration will be the last, will work together as one in taking all-out measures. I sincerely ask all of you for your understanding and cooperation.