"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] August 17, 2021
[Source] Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet
[Notes] Provisional Translation
[Full text]

[Opening Statement]

First, before we begin this press conference, I would like to express my heartfelt condolences for the lives lost as a result of the recent heavy rains and offer my sincere sympathies to those affected by the disaster.

The Government is making all-out efforts to rescue and deliver relief to disaster victims and provide assistance towards restoration. I ask all citizens not to let down their guard and to be sure to take early actions that will save their own lives.

Just now we convened a meeting of the Novel Coronavirus Response Headquarters, whereupon we took the decision to declare a state of emergency in Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma, Shizuoka, Kyoto, Hyogo, and Fukuoka Prefectures and apply priority measures to prevent the spread of disease in Miyagi, Toyama, Yamanashi, Gifu, Mie, Okayama, Hiroshima, Kagawa, Ehime, and Kagoshima Prefectures, to be in effect from August 20 to September 12 for each of these groups. Alongside this, for the six prefectures already subject to a declaration of a state of emergency and for the six prefectures already subject to priority measures to prevent the spread of disease, we decided to extend the period for each of these to September 12.

The number of new infections has been rising rapidly in various locations all around the country and we continue to experience an unprecedented surge in infections. The number of new cases nationwide surpassed 20,000 last weekend, putting us in a truly critical situation. There has also been an increase in the number of patients with severe symptoms, which we had kept in check at a low level until now, and the number of hospitalized patients and persons recuperating at home or in hotels are both rising sharply. This has caused the structure of our public health centers and our medical treatment structure to come under strain, resulting in an extremely severe situation centered on the Greater Tokyo area.

The cause of this is the Delta viral strain, which is said to have an extremely high degree of infectivity. This Delta strain has caused an unexpected spread of infections internationally as well; within Japan, there has been a rapid transition to infections caused by the Delta variant, and unfortunately it has brought about a completely different phase in our battle.

Against such a backdrop, the Government's mission is to protect the lives of the citizens and to expand a medical treatment structure through which necessary treatment can be received by those needing it, even amidst a rapid surge in infections. As we work to secure the hospital beds and recuperation facilities we need, what is most pressing of all is ensuring that we have a medical treatment system firmly in place that protects people's lives, in which even people recuperating at home can receive appropriate medical interventions, should their symptoms change suddenly. At the same time, we will continue our measures to reduce the number of new infections by the greatest possible extent, pressing forward with administering vaccines in the meanwhile. Under this recognition, based on the state of the number of new infections and hospital bed availability in each specific location, we have now expanded the geographical areas where we will take measures, and alongside this we decided to extend the period the declaration is in effect, to be one in which we expand systems through which patients can be certain to receive the medical treatments they require.

We have been asking many people in the public and many people related to this decision to undergo a significant amount of hardship, and that pains me terribly. But under our strong determination to overcome this crisis, we will be certain to push forward with our measures, comprised of the three pillars of getting our medical treatment system solidly in place, preventing the spread of infection, and administering vaccines.

Our first pillar is ensuring that a reliable medical treatment structure is firmly in place. We will begin by addressing the rapidly increasing number of persons recuperating at home. I believe that patients staying in their own homes feel very ill at ease. We will work in cooperation with local governments and local medical institutions to become able to contact all such patients without exception. In order to strengthen our system of telephone-based examinations by doctors, we will increase the remuneration paid for such examinations and treatment as well as for in-home medical services. As for cases in which oxygen needs to be administered, we will build in each relevant local area a system under which oxygen can be provided swiftly, such as by having patients stay in oxygen administration stations set up within hospitals or other facilities.

Next we will address those requiring hospitalization or other treatment at that level. We have newly secured a capacity of some 1,400 hospital beds nationwide since July to ensure that people with severe symptoms are reliably able to be admitted to hospitals. Partnering with local governments, we will make further headway in securing hospital bed capacity by having the national government also interface with potential cooperating hospitals. As for recuperation at hotels by patients with mild symptoms, here too we have added 1,700 rooms nationwide since July. Hotel-based recuperation is effective in preventing the spread of infection within households, so from now we will continue to add to that number as much as possible.

We will furthermore work to prevent severe cases from developing. The neutralizing antibody drug introduced last month provides antibodies to fight the virus by means of an intravenous drip. It is a revolutionary pharmaceutical treatment capable of slashing the risk of developing severe symptoms by as much as 70 percent. Having secured adequate amounts of this pharmaceutical, the Government has adopted a policy of promoting collaboration with local governments to enable the drug to be administered at not only hospitals but also hotels where patients are recuperating and other facilities. Yesterday I toured one such facility located in Tokyo. This drug has already been administered to roughly 4,000 people at some 1,000 hospitals nationwide, and I have also heard from people working on the frontlines that many patients have quite clearly recovered and been discharged from the hospital thanks to this neutralizing antibody drug. We will use this intensively on persons in their 50s or older and those with underlying health conditions, thereby preventing people from developing severe illness.

Our second pillar is measures to counter the spread of infections. The other day, the Subcommittee on Novel Coronavirus Disease Control proposed that we aim at a 50 percent reduction in the flow of people in districts where a state of emergency has been declared. In tandem with local governments, the Government is also calling for capacity restrictions in department stores, shopping malls, and other places that get crowded, in areas where the declaration is in effect. We ask everyone in the public to cooperate in cutting down on the flow of people by not only refraining from going on trips or returning to your hometowns but also reducing by half the number of times you head out to crowded places for daily shopping and so on.

Additionally, to avoid clusters arising at workplaces or schools, we will widely distribute antigen testing kits. We ask each workplace to thoroughly implement measures in lounges and other common use spaces and promote teleworking once more, again aiming to attain after the Obon holiday period a 70 percent reduction in the number of workers coming to the workplace, which many companies achieved in the spring of 2020.

To the business operators who will continue to operate under shortened hours and suspend the serving of alcohol, we will render financial support at an early time for cooperating with our requests. In addition, we will extend the period for making use of exceptional initiatives such as Employment Adjustment Subsidies and the Emergency Small-Amount Fund, thereby protecting businesses and people's daily lives. In that context we will newly allocate 300 billion yen in grants so that prefectural and municipal governments around the country can provide well-tailored assistance to businesses.

In Tokyo over several consecutive days we have seen more than 1,000 new cases of infection daily among people in their 20s, and close to 80 percent of all infections have been among people in their 20s through their 50s. Infections are spreading within households and at dining and drinking establishments and we are also seeing a sharp rise in clusters at workplaces. Even among young people, there are reports of people becoming severely ill and of serious complications remaining for quite some time after first becoming ill. In addition, the proportion of people in their 40s or 50s within the population staying in a particular location at night has also been increasing, and the rise within those age categories in the number of severe cases has become one of the characteristics of the current spread of infection.

To reduce the burden being imposed on medical institutions, and indeed, to protect our own lives and health, I once again urge everyone in the public to maintain your own individual awareness and avoid high-risk behavior. I ask once more that everyone thoroughly carry out the basic preventive measures of wearing masks, washing your hands, and avoiding the three Cs [of closed spaces, crowded spaces, and close-contact settings], and ask especially that you wear a mask when talking with others.

Our third pillar is administering vaccines. The vaccines are showing a high degree of effectiveness, even against the Delta strain. Many of the elderly aged 65 or over, of whom 85 percent have already received their second vaccine dose, have been able to avoid the onset of symptoms and the development of severe symptoms, even amidst the current surge in infections. As a result, the proportion of the elderly among all those testing positive for COVID-19 has dropped from twenty-something percent in the past to roughly three percent at present, and the number of people succumbing to the virus has also been kept in check to a considerably low level. Thanks to the devoted efforts of many people involved, nationwide inoculations proceeded at an average of 1.1 million doses per day in June and 1.5 million doses per day in July, a pace far exceeding our targets. As for August, even with the impact of the Obon holiday period, we are moving forward at a pace of more than 1.0 million doses being administered daily. By today, half of all our citizens have received at least one dose, with over 110 million doses administered in total.

Various countries around the world, taking the opportunity of their vaccine administration showing a certain degree of progress, are poised to recover their normal socioeconomic activities. For Japan too, we expect that as of the end of August, almost half of all our citizens will have received two doses of the vaccines, and by the end of September, nearly 60 percent of the public will have gotten two inoculations, bringing us close to being right in line with where the UK and the United States stand at present. We will distribute a sufficient amount of vaccines by early October to enable 80 percent of all those eligible to be fully inoculated.

In this protracted battle with COVID-19, many in the public have cooperated with us to the very best of their ability. And yet, having come to our present state of affairs, I am concerned that the rapid spread of infections has led some to feel a strong sense of unease about what is to come, or resignation that nothing much seems to come of complying with our countermeasures. I also think it is only natural for many people to feel irritated that they can't enjoy their long-awaited summer vacation in the way they had hoped.

From now, if we move forward in inoculating people in their 40s and 50s and also those in the younger generation, we will be able to look forward to unmistakable preventive effects, and a light will become clearly visible to us. We will aim to finish administering the second dose of the vaccine for all those wanting it at the earliest possible time in October or November.

Our lifting of this declaration is premised on ensuring that we have a medical treatment structure in place that is capable of protecting the lives and health of the citizens. We will analyze such factors as the state of vaccine administration, the number of severely ill patients, and the hospital bed occupancy ratio to make an appropriate decision on lifting the declaration. Then beyond that, the restoration of socioeconomic activity, including using dining and drinking establishments and enjoying trips or events, will come into view. We will work to tackle the COVID-19 situation with all our strength. I ask sincerely for your understanding and your cooperation.