"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] Press Conference by the Prime Minister regarding His Visit to a Press Photo Exhibition and Other Matters

[Date] December 18, 2021
[Source] Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet
[Notes] Provisional Translation
[Full text]

(Regarding his visit to a press photo exhibition)

I visited a press photo exhibition, which featured, among other things, the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics held earlier this year. There were many sports-related photos, such as those depicting Mr. Otani's excellent performance in the Major League Baseball, many of which represented energetic dynamism of sports. On the other hand, there were also many photos of people suffering from the COVID-19 and disasters, as well as those struggling under such circumstances. I was impressed by so many photos, which reminded me of what it is like to have the power to live. Despite enormous challenges facing our country, I hope that many citizens will mobilize their power to live to vigorously move toward the next year and beyond with a renewed determination.

The photo that impressed me most was the one depicting an Egyptian table tennis player who played with a paddle in his mouth, while using one of his feet to throw the ball in the air when serving. I had already been extremely impressed by the player during the Paralympics and I found him in the photo again this time around. I'm sorry I don't remember his name, but the photo reminded me of the excitement I had when I saw his performance.

(Regarding the passing away of Mr. IIZUKA Shigeo, former Representative of the Association of Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea)

I pray for the repose of the soul of Mr. IIZUKA Shigeo and extend my deepest condolences to the bereaved family. Mr. Iizuka served as the representative of the Association of Families for 14 years, after taking over the role from the late Mr. YOKOTA Shigeru. Immediately after taking office as Prime Minister, I met him in person and listened to what he had to say. I was impressed by his strong determination to never give up. I am deeply sorry that Mr. Iizuka passed away without being able to reunite with his sister, Ms. TAGUCHI Yaeko. As the members of the Association of Families are becoming older year after year, I deeply feel that there is no time to lose in the abductions issue. I will strive to work on this issue, keeping in mind that we must seize every opportunity to solve it.

(Regarding whether the Government intends to postpone the deadline of the strengthened border measures against the Omicron strain, originally set to end in a month)

As for the border measures against the Omicron strain, we have to note that there still remain many unknowns about the strain. That is why we decided to implement the border measures as a set of urgent and precautionary steps that are the most stringent among the G7 countries. We set the measures to end in around a month at the outset. Until more is known about the Omicron strain, at least until the year-end and New Year holidays, we should closely monitor how things will play out before considering how we will respond later on.

(Regarding what border measures should be taken in the next phase)

Fortunately, the number of newly infected cases in Japan has been at a low level. We are now conducting genome analysis of all newly infected cases in Japan to see if they have been infected with the Omicron strain. Thus, in parallel with the border measures, we have established a reliable testing system for the Omicron strain.

Furthermore, it is important to respond not only to the Omicron strain, but also to other possible new strains of the novel coronavirus. We have made preparations to cope with strains that are doubly infectious compared with what we went through back in the summer, including by securing 37,000 hospital beds, as well as 3,000 doctors and 3,000 nurses. With such healthcare professionals ready to cooperate, we have already prepared for the worst-case scenario in terms of hospital beds and the medical systems. In addition, we are also preparing a system to ensure access to medical care for patients recuperating at home.

While such border measures have been put in place, many experts have pointed out that there may be a sixth wave down the road. We should prepare for the worst-case scenario by ensuring adequate hospital beds and healthcare professionals, and, more importantly, accelerating the schedule for the third dose of vaccination. We have already requested that all prefectures prepare for the launch of a free testing program. In addition to some 1.6 million doses of early orally administered therapeutics that have already been prepared, Pfizer CEO and I had a direct telephone conversation yesterday and agreed on the provision of another 2 million doses. We are vigorously working on such systems of hospital beds, healthcare professionals, prevention, testing, and early treatment, along with border measures. We will continue to strive to mitigate the concerns of the public as much as possible.