"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 25, 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 declare a state of emergency in Hokkaido, Miyagi, Gifu, Aichi, Mie, Shiga, Okayama, and Hiroshima Prefectures, and to implement priority measures to prevent the spread of disease in Kochi, Saga, Nagasaki, and Miyazaki Prefectures. These will be in effect from August 27 to September 12 for both groups.

The number of nationwide new cases of COVID-19 infection continues to set one record high after another. We are seeing high rates of increase in the Chubu area in particular, and elsewhere. At the national level, almost all regions continue to experience an unprecedented spread of infections. Our public health center systems and medical treatment systems face an ongoing severe situation. Against that backdrop, in light of the hospital bed occupancy situation and other factors in multiple locations, we took the decision to expand the areas subject to the declaration and to priority measures.

Last week, I said that in such locations, we will comprehensively implement measures comprising the three pillars of ensuring our medical treatment system is solidly in place, preventing the spread of infections, and administering vaccines. My determination to overcome this crisis no matter what through the cooperation of all of you in the public has not changed in the slightest.

With infections spreading rapidly, I believe that many people must be living with a feeling of unease. We will swiftly advance urgent medical countermeasures so that patients can be certain to receive medical care. We will carry out all necessary steps in order to protect citizens' lives and livelihoods.

With regard to ensuring we have reliable medical treatment structures in place, first and foremost are our measures to assist patients recuperating at home. I think those who are recuperating at home must feel quite helpless. Through cooperation from the Japan Medical Association, we will quickly expand the system so that, when local conditions allow it, patients are able to undergo health monitoring, engage in consultations or telephone consultations, and so on at the clinic or other location where they first consulted a doctor.

The other day, there was an extremely tragic situation in which a pregnant woman recuperating at home led to difficulties in arranging for a hospital to admit her, and her baby died as a result. Even for advanced medical systems capable of treating pregnant women infected with COVID-19, we will push forward in getting medical treatment options squarely in place within communities, while also comprehensively strengthening information sharing and coordination among hospitals, prefectural governments, and fire departments so that patients can be transported swiftly to hospitals even in emergencies.

The second point is securing hospital bed capacity. The day before yesterday, based on the Infectious Diseases Control Law, the national government and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government jointly requested medical institutions in Tokyo to accept the greatest possible number of inpatients and so on. In addition, with the recent declaration of a state of emergency, the Government has asked each relevant prefecture to secure as many hospital beds as possible and to be quick in reinforcing the medical treatment structure.

The Government is also providing complete assistance for local governments' measures to reinforce medical systems. Moreover, the National Hospital Organization has expanded the number of beds allocated to COVID-19 patients across all of Tokyo by 200 beds and will play a role as a COVID-19 response center for all of Japan.

As this wave of infections spread, many advised us to build so-called "field hospitals." Thus far, in 14 locations around the country, we have set up emergency care facilities that make use of available hospital beds and other facilities and are able to provide oxygen. We will increase further the number of such temporary recuperation facilities, centered on areas subject to the declaration of a state of emergency.

The third point is to use new drugs to prevent severe cases from developing. A neutralizing antibody drug has already been newly provided to 10,000 people at 1,400 medical institutions, and we are hearing from the medical professionals working there that it prevents symptoms from becoming severe and is extremely effective. Until now only inpatients have been eligible for this treatment, but we will also enable its use in an outpatient setting, so that it can be used without necessitating admission to the hospital. We have properly secured an adequate amount of necessary doses. We will continue to use it to avoid symptoms becoming severe, focusing intensively on persons over 50 years of age and people with underlying conditions.

Unfortunately, the number of infections in children is also on the rise. Before the new school term starts in September, we will promote measures for children so that opportunities for education are lost as infrequently as possible.

First of all, to ensure that infections within schools do not spread widely, we will thoroughly implement fundamental infection prevention measures by, for example, making everyone informed about checklists and having children stay home from school if they have a fever or other symptoms.

Next, we will distribute to kindergartens, elementary schools, and junior high schools antigen testing kits able to run approximately 800,000 tests to work towards early discovery and early treatment.

In addition, we will keep making progress in administering vaccines to faculty and staff. Thus far vaccines have been provided to school faculty and staff at large-scale vaccination centers run by local governments and over 700 vaccination venues at universities, and we will make further use of such opportunities to provide vaccines to faculty and staff wanting them.

Beyond the measures I just mentioned, we are not thinking of the Government requesting all schools around the country to close simultaneously, but we will expeditiously set forth guidelines so that, when infected people emerge in schools, the schools themselves and local authorities can identify people who have been in close contact with them and make an appropriate decision over whether or not to temporarily close the school.

I will repeat myself here, but 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 I ask especially that you wear a mask when talking with others.

We will implement curtailed operating hours at dining and drinking establishments and control the entry of people into large-scale shopping complexes. To deal with the Delta strain of the virus, which is highly infectious, and help us promote infection countermeasures in various settings that are easy to understand, we will review industry-specific guidelines, centered on workplaces such as department stores where staff interact with large numbers of users.

Regarding telework as well, we want each workplace to work out additional ideas to make teleworking possible and advance measures to bring about a 70 percent reduction in the number of workers coming to the workplace, which many companies achieved in the spring of 2020. I once again urge everyone in the public to individually take steps to avoid high-risk settings and high-risk behavior.

In the area of vaccine administration, we are moving forward in August at a pace of more than 1 million doses being administered daily; as of yesterday, 54 percent of all citizens nationwide had received at least one dose and 43 percent had finished receiving two doses, with over 120 million doses administered in total. As for the administration of vaccines at companies and universities, in addition to the 2,400 venues in the program from the beginning, inoculations will newly take place at 140 venues this month, and roughly 1,500 venues will begin administering vaccines by the middle of September. Against that backdrop, at the end of August, close to half of all citizens will have received their second dose, and at the end of September nearly 60 percent will have done so. This brings us close to being on par with the situation in the UK and the United States at present.

With regard to people in their 50s, in whom we are in particular currently seeing a marked trend towards cases becoming severe, thus far roughly 50 percent of them have received a single dose, with 30 percent having gotten both doses. We will make steady headway in administering vaccines, including to people such as these.

This week we will decide on how to use 1.4 trillion yen of reserve funds. We will take all possible budgetary measures in order to respond to urgent issues such as the system for administering vaccines and securing adequate amounts of the neutralizing antibody drug, while continuing such initiatives as our Employment Adjustment Subsidies and the Emergency Small-Amount Fund.

As for financial support for drinking and dining establishments cooperating with our requests, in the Greater Tokyo area almost all payments have already been rendered to businesses that applied for early compensation, a scheme we introduced last month. We will act hand in hand with prefectural governments, working to make swift payments, including to businesses in the geographical areas recently added to the scheme and also to businesses in other locations.

I will also address the matter of Afghanistan, where the situation remains tense. I participated in the G7 leaders' video conference last night, in which we had frank discussions about our future responses and the best ways for us to coordinate our efforts. First, we place the highest priority on the safe departure of Japanese nationals, the local staff of our embassy, and others and we will respond responsibly to the situation, making use of the Self-Defense Forces aircraft already dispatched to the site. Beyond that, we will act in close cooperation with the G7 and other relevant countries so that we keep Afghanistan from again becoming a hotbed of terrorism, avoid the ongoing humanitarian crises there in the country, and protect the rights of women and others. The stability and reconstruction of Afghanistan, which is also situated at a place of strategic importance geopolitically, is deeply connected to Japan's national interests. We will engage in efforts strategically, assessing the situation there on the ground as well as trends that surround those local circumstances.

Because of the spread of the highly infectious Delta strain, it has become more difficult than before to keep the number of new infections in check. However, the types of vaccines we are pressing forward with now are clearly effective even against the Delta strain, and thanks to new pharmaceutical treatments, we are also able to avoid broadly the development of severe symptoms. We are unmistakably beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Regarding when the declaration, in effect until September 12, will be lifted, we will make a decision after analyzing the state of vaccine administration, the number of severely ill patients, the hospital bed occupancy ratio, and other such factors. Then beyond that, we will also thoroughly examine how to restore our everyday lives and recover our socioeconomic activities, such as using dining and drinking establishments and enjoying trips or events, including through the method of proactively making use of vaccination certificates. We will do everything in our power to overcome this crisis. I ask for the understanding and cooperation of the public.