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Prime Minister Abe’s March 28 Statement

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held a press conference on the evening of Saturday, March 28, with prepared statements followed by Q&A. The below is an unauthorized English translation of the text available on the Prime Minister’s website.

New coronavirus infections are rampant around the world. The number of infected people has exceeded 500,000. It took more than 60 days to reach the first 100,000 people, but recently it has increased by 100,000 in just two days and is growing at a truly explosive pace. In several countries, the number of deaths is increasing by several hundred people every day, and there is a situation that cannot provide enough medical care for the increasing number of severely ill patients, which can be called a medical collapse. This is not a fire on the other side. The situation may be the same in Japan in a short time. With such a sense of crisis, I would like to ask the public again for maximum vigilance.

Up to now, in Japan, the efforts of experts, health centers, and on-site healthcare professionals have been working to discover and control the transmission of infection in a so-called cluster at an early stage. By doing so, we managed to get by. However, at present, the number of patients whose transmission route is unknown is increasing mainly in urban areas such as Tokyo and Osaka. If you don’t see the connection, you won’t know how many infected people are behind it. And if an uncontrolled chain of infections can occur, an explosive spread can occur somewhere.

In Tokyo, Governor Koike said on March 25th that an overshoot was a serious possibility, and asked Tokyo residents to refrain from going out at night and over the weekend. Together with the four prefectural governors, Chiba, Kanagawa, Saitama and Yamanashi, we are calling for cooperation on self-restraint regarding events and unnecessary social gatherings. Osaka and Kumamoto have also been asked to refrain from going out this weekend. I urge you to cooperate with these calls from local governments.

Once an explosive spread occurs, the number of infected people jumps more than 30 times in just two weeks, based on estimates from Europe and the United States. If that happens, our strategy to pull off the peaks while minimizing the speed of infection will suddenly collapse.

Some may still think that the total number of infected people is lower than in the West. However, the number of infected people we see every day is only a capture of the status of new infections about two weeks ago, considering the incubation period. In other words, even if an explosive spread has already occurred, it cannot be immediately detected. Two weeks later, when the numbers appear, the rate of patient growth is out of control. This is the scariest part of the infection, and we must continue to fight this scary enemy with fortitude.

Under the strong sense of crisis, the Self-Defense Forces were mobilized and drastically strengthened the border controls. The day before yesterday, the Cabinet decided to establish a government task force based on the revised Special Measures Law. As a result, task force headquarters have been set up in all prefectures, and we will do our utmost to prevent the spread of infection, whilst assuming the worst possible situation, in close cooperation with local governments. We ask the citizens to refrain from traveling.

And to reduce the risk of infection in the population, please focus on avoiding the following three conditions as much as possible. First, a closed space with poor ventilation. Second, places where people are crowded. Third, close conversations at short distances. Closed, dense, close. Please take action to avoid these three factors.

This week, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology has provided guidelines for reopening the school from the new semester. By opening the windows of the classroom and thoroughly ventilating the three conditions, such as thorough ventilation, at each educational site, we intend to make every effort to prevent the infection of children. When we resume, next week we will hold another expert meeting and ask for opinions from a professional perspective. More than a month has passed since the experts expressed their view that they were on the verge. During this time, we have come to understand the three conditions, but we have requested the people to make great efforts, such as requesting cancellation, postponement, and scale reduction of large-scale events. Thank you for your cooperation.

Many of you may have been stressed in the past month as corona fatigue or self-restraint fatigue. However, in Europe and the United States, where overshoot has occurred, strong measures have to be taken, such as closing cities, forcibly prohibiting going out, and closing stores other than daily necessities. We apologize for the inconvenience this time, but I would like you to understand that it is to avoid such hard measures.

Again, Japan is different from Europe and the United States. But, therefore, if you relax even a little, you might see a sudden surge. Fortunately, even if overshooting can be avoided, it means that the current situation will last for some time. So we need to be prepared for a long battle. We sincerely thank you and ask for your continued cooperation in preventing the spread of infection.

The government will use the world’s wisdom to accelerate the development of effective treatments and vaccines so that you can resolve your concerns as soon as possible. Recently, the G7 Summit held by video conference and the G20 Summit on Finance and the World Economy (Summit on Finance and the World Economy) summoned it strongly and received the support of world leaders. In Japan, the administration of four drugs has already started as an observational study.

Of these, Avigan, which has been approved for the treatment of new influenza and has known side effects, has been administered to dozens of patients so far. It is a drug that prevents the growth of the virus and has been reported to be effective in improving symptoms. Avigan is attracting interest from many countries abroad, and in the future we will work with the countries of choice to expand clinical research and start increasing drug production. We also plan to launch the clinical trial process required for formal approval for a new type of coronavirus infection. Regarding remdecivir, which was being developed as a treatment for Ebola hemorrhagic fever, an international clinical trial mainly in the United States and Japan has started. Fusan, which has been approved as a therapeutic agent for pancreatitis as the fifth leading candidate, will be administered to patients with prior consent as an observational study in the future.

In addition, universities and private companies are making various moves to develop therapeutic drugs and vaccines. We will pursue all possibilities with strong government support. With unprecedented anxiety and fear covering not only Japan, but the world as well, Japan hopes to be the one with the light of hope, with the power of innovation.

We will take drastic measures against the current economic situation that has fallen into a more difficult situation than ever before. Yesterday, next year’s budget was approved. This will allow the budget to be continuously implemented from the new fiscal year, such as enhancing social security such as medical care and nursing care, and providing free higher education. In addition, a government task force will be convened afterwards to instruct emergency economic measures to be formulated. Although unusual since the Lehman Shock, we will formulate a supplementary budget for the next fiscal year and submit it to the Diet as soon as possible. We intend to mobilize all policies, including the reduction of national and local taxes and monetary measures, to develop and implement an ever stronger policy package.

Over the past seven times, we have heard directly the voice of the field and the voice of the community. The self-restraint of various activities has had a tremendous impact on the entire Japanese economy. Bus bookings for next month are down 90% year-on-year, and the aviation industry is already losing all of its annual operating profit. In many industries, such as lodging and eating and drinking, sales decreased by 80% or 90% in many cases. In the music industry, there were talks about the event being canceled and sales going down from zero. While the outlook cannot be foreseen, some small and medium-sized businesses have a sad voice saying that it is truly a matter of life and death, but they also have determined to clench their teeth and work hard to endure this test. I was able to ask.

As a government, we will thoroughly support these plights and protect the local employment and workplaces. And that’s why we need the power of culture, arts and sports to heal people’s hearts. Even in difficult times, the lights of culture must never be extinguished. However, in the current situation where prevention of infection spread is of the utmost priority, first of all, we will take measures to focus on getting over this difficult situation.

For small and medium-sized enterprises, we have already taken bold financing support measures that are substantially interest-free and unsecured, and deferred principal repayment for up to 5 years. I will do it.

In addition to financing, we have a new benefit plan to help you overcome this difficulty. We will provide unprecedented support for small and medium-sized enterprises on an unprecedented scale, taking into account the current severe situation.

For families with reduced income due to reduced work, etc., who may be having difficulty in living, we have already advanced small-scale funding, which can be exempted from repayment, and postponement of tax and utility payments, In addition, we will provide benefits for a drastic life.

The government will listen to the voices of people in various situations and provide detailed support.

When the spread of infection has been suppressed and social unrest has been dispelled, the Japanese economy will recover the V-shaped economy at once. In order to regain the smiles of people all over the country, we intend to support vigorous regeneration by taking short-term concentrated bold demand stimulus measures for travel, transportation, eating out, and events.

The world will work together to implement powerful economic and fiscal policies. This is the agreement at the recent G20 Summit. As Japan, a leader in global coordination, we will work to unprecedentedly scale measures that will event exceed economic measures applied during the Lehman Shock.

The Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, which the people have been excited to hold this summer, will be postponed and will be held by the next summer at the latest. I am very sorry for all the athletes who have been working hard this summer, but I would like to ask for your understanding based on the current state of the world.

The torch that came to Japan last week, as a symbol of humanity’s hope, will continue to be lit in Japan and will be sent out tomorrow. This torch is the light of hope that will lead mankind to the exit of the long, dark tunnel we are facing right now. As a proof that humanity has overcome the new coronavirus, I want to work with the people of the Olympic and Paralympic Games next year.

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Norbert Gehrke

Norbert Gehrke

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Passionate about strategy & innovation across Asia. At home in Japan. Connector of people & ideas.