"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 28, 2021
[Source] Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet
[Notes] Provisional translation
[Full text]

[Opening Statement]

We just convened a meeting of the Novel Coronavirus Response Headquarters, where we took the decision that as of September 30, we will lift the declaration of a state of emergency now in effect in 19 prefectures and also lift all priority measures to prevent the spread of disease currently being implemented in eight prefectures, and to relax, in stages, various restrictions now in place.

Beginning in July, the extremely infectious Delta strain caused coronavirus infections to spread with greater momentum than ever before in numerous locations nationwide. This led to the number of available hospital beds coming under extremely severe strain. Against that backdrop, we worked resolutely, advancing the expansion of the medical treatment structure, measures to prevent the spread of infections, and the administration of vaccines, assisted by the cooperation we received from each individual among medical and nursing care professionals, owners of dining and drinking establishments and other businesses, and members of the public.

Through the efforts of many people, the number of new cases of infection nationally, which surpassed 25,000 per day not long after we entered the latter half of August, has continued to decline dramatically, with 1,128 cases yesterday. The figures for Tokyo decreased from 5,773 to 248 today. The occupancy ratio of hospital beds has dropped below 50 percent in every prefecture and the number of patients with severe symptoms has been trending downward, after peaking in early September. The number of patients recuperating at home, which had surpassed 130,000 nationally at one time, has also fallen to 30,000 and continues to decline. The current situation meets the standards indicated by the experts recently for lifting the declaration, so we have taken the decision to do so.

I am truly grateful to all those who extended their cooperation towards our measures until now. Thank you very much.

In addition to this, we have decided to relax, in stages, restrictions on dining out and drinking and other activities while maintaining a high sense of vigilance towards the virus. Our battle against COVID-19 will enter a new phase from now. The number of cases has decreased dramatically because we have kept in check various settings where the risk of infection is high while we press forward with vaccinations at a rapid pace.

In addition, we are able to prevent cases from becoming severe through the use of vaccines and neutralizing antibody drugs. As the data on the panel indicates, the number of deaths as a percentage of the cumulative number of new cases was 2.4 percent from January to March and 1.7 percent from April to June, yet it has been limited to 0.3 percent in the three months of July through September that correspond to our recent wave of infections.

By expanding the medical treatment system to cope with such significant changes, we will be able to provide medical treatment in a stable manner, even if infections emerge to a certain degree. Going forward, it is important that, premised on the existence of a virus, we enhance the ability of society as a whole to cope with the situation and that we make measures to curb the spread of infections highly compatible with people's daily lives, while also preparing for the next wave of infections. To do this, we must move forward with the next three policies.

First is enhancing our medical treatment structure by another level. Since July, nationwide we have secured 4,800 hospital beds in addition to 14,000 hotel rooms for patients with mild symptoms. We have also set up approximately 80 facilities around the country, including temporary medical facilities and oxygen administration stations, and even now we continue to increase the number of these facilities. We are also expanding into areas all around Japan a system in which nearby clinics or doctors providing in-home medical care conduct health monitoring and determine the need for hospitalization for patients recuperating at home, enabling such patients to receive the medical treatment they need.

The in-home medical care team whom I met had doctors on staff providing in-home medical treatment on a rotational basis and provided this care with great commitment, making use of crowdfunding and donations from companies as well. In addition, the neutralizing antibody drug, which has remarkable effects, has already been used by some 34,000 patients. We significantly raised medical fees and made it possible for this drug also to be used in house calls and in outpatient treatment, rather than only in cases of hospitalization. One person working on the front lines in a medical treatment facility remarked to me, "As a doctor, I feel so fortunate to be able to use a revolutionary drug that demonstrates its effectiveness the following day."

Having put all our capabilities into play to enhance these resources, we must make full use of them in setting solidly into place a system that will function capably even if another wave of infections should arise in the future. We will move forward in formulating policies that enable prefectural governments and medical institutions to consult with each other and secure hospital bed capacity and human resources that can be tapped immediately, should a critical moment arise.

I also want to ask all of you once again to continue taking 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 to refrain from activities which have a high risk of infection, as you have done until now. Starting yesterday, we have made antigen testing kits available for purchase at pharmacies. I hope that people worried about their health condition conduct the test by themselves, leading to a consultation at a medical institution.

Second is the steady continuation of vaccinations. This month again we pressed forward in our vaccination effort by 1.1 million doses per day, and our cumulative total now exceeds 160.0 million doses. Some 69 percent of the population have already received at least one dose and 58 percent have completed two doses. We have surpassed the vaccination rate of the United States, even though just a few months ago we were trailing the United States by an enormous margin. The vaccination rate among the elderly has reached roughly 90 percent, and many people have been getting inoculated.

A provisional calculation by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare estimates that vaccinations resulted in 100,000 fewer infections and 8,000 fewer deaths in persons 65 years of age or older during the recent wave of infections. Vaccinations of people in their 50s have also progressed to roughly 80 percent of them receiving one dose and more than 60 percent receiving two doses. We believe this has contributed significantly to reducing the number of cases of infections and preventing cases from becoming severe in the recent wave.

We will press forward in administering these vaccines so that everyone in the public who wishes to can complete their second dose as soon as possible in October or November. Many local governments have raised their final targets for vaccination rates to 80 percent, and if we continue on as we have done thus far, Japan will rank among the highest tier of countries worldwide in vaccination coverage. The cooperation shown until now by each individual fills me with profound gratitude and pride.

Looking ahead to the third dose, we have already entered into agreements for 200 million doses. Based on the views of the council saying to wait until roughly eight months after the second dose, we will make preparations so that administration of a third dose can begin within the calendar year.

Third is restoring our daily lives. Thanks to the vaccinations, there has been greater effectiveness in preventing infections across society as a whole and the number of infections has decreased substantially, allowing the normalization of socioeconomic activities to finally come into view. We will proceed with lifting restrictions in stages as we work to restore our vibrant daily lives in which we enjoy peace of mind, which I myself have been pledging we will achieve.

After October 1, for the near future, for dining and drinking establishments that have taken such measures as installing acrylic panels, enhancing ventilation, and so on, and received the corresponding certification, we will allow alcohol to be served and permit the business to operate until 9 PM, at the discretion of each prefectural government. We will permit events to have up to 10,000 persons. And, after conducting a gradual relaxation of restrictions in this way, we will consider further steps that make use of, for example, vaccination certificates and screening results. We will proactively consider measures that relax restrictions on the international flow of people that is so critical for business. Beginning October 1, we will, as a rule, shorten the period for quarantining at home from two weeks to ten days for persons returning to Japan who have been vaccinated. We will examine further measures going forward.

It has been a little over a year since I took office as prime minister. . During this time, my days have been fully absorbed in the fight against COVID-19. Ever since I first aspired to become a politician, I have always listened conscientiously to the stories told by a wide range of people and made efforts to ensure that on the ground, things make headway and people are able to move forward in a vibrant and dynamic way. There were days when I was consumed with worry as my thoughts turned to medical services for those recuperating at home, how the owners of dining and drinking establishments and other businesses would get by, children's education, the daily lives of those in need, and people who found themselves in isolated circumstances.

As this was happening, vaccines and pharmaceutical treatments arrived on the scene. And even as I was told it would be next to impossible, if we lacked sufficient human resources to give the shots, I would ask dentists and paramedics and medical technologists to administer them, without regard for the conventional way of thinking. Having secured the personnel to administer the vaccines, we then introduced vaccinations at workplaces, and then, calling on local governments around the country for their cooperation, through an initiative not limited to the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare but instead encompassing the entirety of the Japanese Government through the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, we made all-out efforts to tackle this issue. The result of all this is that at long last, the vaccines are now being circulated to all of you.

I stated that now that the use of vaccines and pharmaceutical treatments is taking shape, we are beginning to see a clear light at the end of the tunnel in our long-running battle with COVID-19. While some criticized that wording, I feel keenly that the effects are now clear and that this light is becoming brighter with each day that passes. Also, an oral medication that patients with mild symptoms can use at home is under development, aiming at becoming available as early as within this calendar year. Once it has been approved, we will move forward committedly in our negotiations to make it available for administrating to patients.

I wish to once again express my heartfelt thanks to all the people who extended their cooperation. Thank you very much indeed.

It has been a little over a year since I took office as prime minister last year, and during that time I have devoted myself entirely to waging this battle. Although this was much too short a time to bring everything to completion, I succeeded in taking on longstanding issues and laying out a path forward to various reforms. During my visit to the United States in April, I made a direct request to President Biden regarding import restrictions on food products from Japan, including rice and beef from Fukushima, and recently these restrictions were lifted in their entirety. I believe this will be enormously encouraging for the reconstruction of Tohoku, a critical mission for my cabinet.

In diplomacy and security as well, I have indicated the path Japan should take. The Japan-U.S Alliance, which is the cornerstone of Japanese diplomacy, is at a height never reached before. Last week the first in-person Quad summit meeting among the leaders of Japan, Australia, India, and the United States was brought to realization. Through it, we greatly advanced the vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific, an initiative that Japan has been driving.

I believe that Japan is now at a truly critical juncture. Challenges such as our decreasing birth rate and aging population, which can properly be called a national crisis, a drastically changing security environment, and moreover the delay in digital transformation resulting from COVID-19 have come to stand out in bold relief. For Japan's future, we must bring about growth and create the means for the people to make a living; even if reforms are accompanied by some pain, it will become increasingly important to thoroughly explain and then realize those reforms.

As I end my statement, I also want to express my gratitude to the members of the press who have covered my administration over the last year.

And, to the Japanese people. I feel certain that nothing would have come to fruition without your cooperation. I thank the public sincerely for the support and cooperation you have given to "the Cabinet that works for the people." I thank you all most sincerely.