"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] September 9, 2021
[Source] Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet
[Notes] Provisional translation
[Full text]

[Opening Statement]

Today we convened a meeting of the Novel Coronavirus Response Headquarters, where we decided to extend the declaration of a state of emergency in 19 prefectures, to remain in effect until the end of September. The declaration will be lifted in Miyagi and Okayama Prefectures. We also decided to engage in priority measures to prevent the spread of disease until the end of September in eight prefectures, including newly added Miyagi and Okayama Prefectures, while ending these measures as of September 12 in Toyama, Yamanashi, Ehime, Kochi, Saga and Nagasaki Prefectures. In conjunction with these revisions, we decided to continue measures to counter the spread of infections, including shortening the hours of operation of dining and drinking establishments and teleworking.

In locations all around the country, the number of new infections is finally following a decreasing trend, but the number of severely ill patients remains at a high level. The proposal put forward by the experts yesterday indicated an approach for lifting the declaration. It stated that the hospital bed occupancy ratio must be lower than 50 percent; the numbers of patients with severe symptoms, new cases of infection, and patients recuperating at home must all be trending lower; and the effects of administering the vaccines and other factors must be examined comprehensively. We made our decision based on this approach.

It will soon be a full year since I took office as prime minister. During this time, my days have been fully absorbed in the fight against COVID-19. I have waged the battle this far pursuing single-mindedly the protection of citizens' lives and livelihoods. To the medical workers, nursing care workers, and all others involved as well as to the citizens, you have made such great efforts until now, and I wish to express my heartfelt appreciation for the cooperation extended to us by each of you in your individual efforts. Thank you very much indeed.

The battle against COVID-19, an invisible enemy, was an extremely challenging one. It was like being in a dark tunnel in which we advance only a step at a time as we grope for the way forward. When we hear an ambulance siren, has the necessary medical care arrived? Are those employed in dining and drinking establishments or the tourism industry doing all right making a living and leading their daily lives? Many times have I harbored worries such as these. Each time I listened to the voices of the people working on the front lines and asked for the advice of experts and, after discussions with relevant ministers, decided on what would be the best path forward for the citizens.

The virus has mutated repeatedly and is still raging around the world. As you can see by the information on the panel here, the virus has caused waves of infections many times in Japan. We have learned many things over the past year through the battle we waged alongside you. One of them is that, taking the existence of the virus as a given, we must shore up our preparedness against new and recurring spreads of infection and that at the same time we must press forward with our socioeconomic activities in a society in which COVID-19 remains present.

Another thing we have learned this year is that vaccines work. Amidst extremely intense global competition to acquire vaccines, during my visit to the United States in April I managed to secure enough doses for all Japanese citizens, and we began administering vaccines in earnest right after the string of holidays in early May. Moving forward at a pace that exceeded our forecasts, we administered an average of 1.1 million doses per day in June, 1.5 million per day in July, and 1.2 million per day in August, for a total of more than 140.0 million doses given. As the panel indicates, we are making headway with inoculations at a faster pace than European nations or the United States. Seventy percent of our population has completed at least one dose and 60 percent has completed two doses, and we expect we will reach the same level that other nations are at right now.

Even as infections caused by the Delta strain are spreading, infections of people who have received two doses are at a level one-thirteenth of those of unvaccinated people. There is also the fact that roughly 90 percent of the elderly, who are at the greatest risk of developing severe cases, have received two doses, and the number who have become severely ill or died has become extremely small. As indicated by the panel, if we compare the current spread of infections to the previous one, we see some significant changes. While the number of cases of infections has risen to 2.9 times the number of cases in the last wave, the number of severe cases has stopped at 1.6 times the number of the previous wave, and deaths have decreased by 60 percent. The state of affairs has become entirely different thanks to the administration of vaccines making headway, and we are now able to wage a strategic battle. The Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare has set forth some provisional calculations that in the current wave of infections, we reduced the number of cases by 100,000 and the number of deaths by 8,000. Some might have questioned the target of administering one million doses of the vaccination per day as unrealistic, but I believe our efforts to accelerate inoculations were not a mistake in the least.

Every time I was asked about the political calendar for this autumn, I answered that measures to fight COVID-19 are the highest priority. Although I have worked exactly in that way, doing my very utmost, and the current number of infections is finally in a declining trend, we have not yet brought the situation to an end. Against this backdrop, the election of the president of the Liberal Democratic Party is about to kick off. At this moment there are still a great many people who are hospitalized or spending their time in their homes with feelings of unease. One would need incredible energy to engage in a campaign to be party president while also taking on measures to counter COVID-19 and fulfilling many other official duties. Lifting the declaration on the 12th cannot easily be done, and the more I have steeled myself against that reality, the more I feel the need to devote myself to tackling COVID-19, and thus I have decided not to run in the election for the LDP presidency.

What I must do now as prime minister is lay out a course towards overcoming this crisis and restoring daily lives characterized by peace of mind and vibrant, bustling crowds.

The first step is to ensure our medical treatment structure is solidly in place and to prevent symptoms from becoming severe through the use of pharmaceutical treatments and vaccines. In addition to hospital beds and hotels, we will increase the number of so-called "field hospitals" around the country, including oxygen administration stations and temporary medical facilities. For those recuperating at home, we will put a system in place so that a familiar medical practitioner will observe their health and make judgments on the need to be hospitalized so that these patients receive the medical treatment they require.

A neutralizing antibody drug has already been used by more than 20,000 patients and has been delivering remarkable results. It has been reported that in Tokyo, among 420 cases in which two weeks had passed since the drug was administered, effectiveness was observed in 95 percent of them. In order to reduce further the number of patients who develop severe symptoms, we are now preparing a system in which all patients requiring this drug will be able to receive it.

We are on schedule to complete the administration of vaccines to all those wishing to receive one sometime in October or early November. In heading towards that goal, we will make use of vaccination certificates and certificates of negative screening results to relax restrictions, even in locations where the declaration of a state of emergency or priority measures are in effect. Through this certificate system and other means, we will forge a path forward towards bringing our socioeconomic activities, including dining out, attending events, and going on trips, back to normal. In the meanwhile, we will be doubly sure to provide support that will protect the businesses and employment as well as the daily lives of those affected by our measures.

Through the series of response measures we have taken to date, the array of problems related to measures to curb the spread of infections has come into sharp relief. Securing hospital beds and medical practitioners takes time; clinical trials and the approval process for pharmaceutical treatments and vaccines move forward only slowly and don't keep pace with other countries; responding flexibly is difficult even in emergencies because of the vertical divisions between ministries and agencies, including the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, and because of walls between the national government and local authorities. These are the issues we will get under control going forward.

I want to make the common sense held by the citizens into reality. Over this past year, under that mindset, I have taken on various long-standing challenges.

Through our push to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 and the establishment of the Digital Agency, new driving forces for growth have gotten off to a powerful start. In addition, a drop in mobile phone charges that I had pledged was implemented immediately, reducing the burden on family budgets by some 430 billion yen. Aiming at a target of a 1,000 yen per hour minimum wage nationally, we realized a record increase, bringing wages to a minimum of 930 yen per hour.

Measures to address the declining birthrate are also of great urgency. In response to comments voiced by the public that the financial burden of fertility treatments causes the salary of one person in a dual-income couple to disappear, we eliminated the income caps for receiving subsidies and also set a course forward for public health insurance to cover infertility treatments. We have also been successful in promoting the taking of childcare leave by men and in reducing the maximum number of students per elementary school class to 35, the first such reduction in 40 years. Under an approach of reaching our hands out to those suffering from isolation and loneliness, I appointed a minister in charge of addressing the matter and I expanded support for NPOs serving as bridges between people facing hardships and the administration.

I have also resolutely taken on the challenges of issues that cannot be avoided. We have implemented the reforms of reducing the burden borne by young people and, as a first step towards a social security system in which all generations can enjoy peace of mind, having elderly people with at least a certain level of income cover 20 percent of their medical treatment fees.

We have decided to release ALPS (Advanced Liquid Processing System) treated water into the ocean, premised on safety being ensured and reputational damage being prevented and countered.

We also enacted a law on national referenda, which is the first step to moving forward with amending the Constitution.

In the areas of diplomacy and security as well, we further reinforced the Japan-U.S. Alliance, which serves as the cornerstone, and beyond that, we deepened our coordination and cooperation with like-minded countries and regions in working to give concrete shape to the Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy.

Next are the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. There was a wide range of views on whether or not to hold the Games this summer, but we held them successfully, fulfilling our duty as the host country that invited them. The magnificent performances by the athletes moved many people and brought dreams and hopes to people all around the world. I also believe we sent out to the world the message of a "barrier-free mindset," leading to the realization of an inclusive society in which both those with and without disabilities live together, helping each other.

Although one year was much too short a time to complete all of these, I believe I succeeded in setting out the course ahead for the sake of a future in which children and young people, and indeed all our citizens, can enjoy peace of mind and hope.

As prime minister, I will devote myself entirely to my duties until the very last day, investing all my heart and all my strength. I ask each of you for your understanding and cooperation.