Press Conference by Prime Minister Kishida
March 16, 2022
Today I will speak about our responses to the situation in Ukraine, where war is continuing, and about COVID-19.
To begin, I will talk about Russian aggression against Ukraine.
The recent outrageous violence by Russia is an inhumane act that should be inscribed in history. Japan resolutely censures Russia’s acts in order fully to defend universal values that include freedom, human rights, and the rule of law. As the situation develops, Japan, acting in coordination with the United States and Europe and also with the G7, will be flexible in imposing stringent sanctions against Russia.
Russia has begun taking countermeasures in response to the voices of rage and the sanctions that emerged in unison from Japan and the rest of the international community. The international markets for crude oil and natural gas have risen sharply, dealing a direct blow to consumers and economies around the world. A view becoming increasingly prevalent is that food-related markets, including notably the grain market, are also under strain. For Japan, as a net importer of both energy and food, there are concerns our economy and people’s daily lives will be hit hard.
However, as we seek to demonstrate that we stand together with the Ukrainian people and fully defend the peace and the order of the international community, it is utterly unforgivable to submit to Russia’s jolts or threats.
With firm determination, Japan will provide support for the people of Ukraine, who are doing their utmost in taking action to fight against aggression and defend their homeland. Now, as we work to conserve energy and accept evacuees from Ukraine, the cooperation of you, my fellow citizens, is indispensable. In response to the cooperation of the public, and in order to minimize the economic blow to the citizens, the Government will ambitiously undertake all possible measures.
Now I will enumerate three specific measures we will take.
The first is a further tightening of our sanctions against Russia. Based on the statement issued by the leaders of the G7 the other day, Japan will further intensify the diplomatic and economic pressure it directs at Russia. We will engage in necessary responses towards that end, including by implementing legal measures.
Specifically, we will undertake five points.
The first is revocation of “most favored nation treatment,” which entails preferential trade measures towards Russia.
The second is the further strengthening of our export and import controls. We will prohibit the export of luxury goods to Russia while also banning the import of certain goods from Russia. We will move rapidly from now to designate the items that are subject to this measure.
The third is cooperation as the G7 to prevent Russia from receiving financing from leading multilateral financial institutions that include the IMF, the World Bank, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
The fourth is a further expansion of the scope of persons subject to asset freezing among the elite class, business oligarchs, and so on who have close ties to President Putin.
The fifth is a further strengthening of financial sanctions through cooperation with cryptocurrency exchange entities and others as a response to Russia avoiding sanctions by using digital assets and other means.
Our second specific measure of the three is assistance for the people of Ukraine. Japan will implement emergency humanitarian assistance of US$100 million, which will be provided to Ukraine and also its neighboring countries. We will work in cooperation with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other international organizations to deliver food, medical supplies, and other necessary assistance to the people of Ukraine, who are living to the fullest as best they can, never submitting to aggression. We will move forward in providing assistance in cooperation with Japanese non-governmental organizations (NGOs) including Association for Aid and Relief, Japan (AAR Japan).
In response to new requests from the Ukrainian side, we will additionally provide equipment such as materials for medical use and binoculars. We began transporting these supplies to Ukraine today. In addition, U.S. military aircraft are transporting bulletproof vests and other items. Through this, we will demonstrate our further solidarity with the Ukrainian people.
Our third measure is preparing a system for accepting into Japan people who have evacuated from Ukraine. Many local governments and companies, as well as people associated with NGOs, distressed at more than 3.2 million Ukrainians being forced to evacuate, have raised their voices encouragingly, saying they want to cooperate in accepting evacuees.
In the disaster-affected area of the Tohoku region, which I visited last week, the head of the local government of a disaster-stricken area said to me directly, “When the Great East Japan Earthquake struck, we received warm-hearted support from the people of Ukraine. Now we would like to reciprocate that goodwill.” In Japan we have a saying that we should help each other in times of need. The Government will, in this same spirit, actively accept evacuees from Ukraine.
To achieve this, I have established under the Chief Cabinet Secretary a Liaison and Coordination Meeting to Advance Measures to Assist Ukrainian Evacuees. We will position this meeting as a "control tower" and, through coordination among the relevant ministries and agencies, we will conduct smooth-running acceptance into Japan and support for daily living for Ukrainian evacuees through matching of the evacuees with the locations accepting them. We have already established consultation windows at the Immigration Bureau of Japan for accepting offers of assistance for Ukrainian evacuees. I hope that we can assist Ukrainian evacuees by pooling the strength of the many people and organizations wishing to help.
As for measures to help alleviate the impact upon Japan’s economy and people’s daily lives from the effects of Russian aggression in Ukraine, we have decided on measures for the near term, including measures to curb drastic price changes, which have already kept the price of gasoline in check at roughly 172 yen per liter, and we will deliver these measures to the public. We will continue to pay close attention to crude oil prices, raw materials prices, and the degree to which the prices of food and other goods have been impacted, and should the situation become prolonged, we will respond with even greater agility.
Next, I will talk about our responses to COVID-19.
Thanks to the efforts made by each member of the public to prevent the spread of infections and the hard work done by local governments as well as medical and welfare professionals, the number of new cases of COVID-19 infections nationwide has now settled down to a level roughly half of what it was at the peak. Although there are some differences from one local area to another, we have also confirmed clear downward trends in our hospital bed occupancy ratios and the number of people recuperating in their own homes.
In response to the requests of prefectural governors observing these circumstances, we will lift the priority measures to prevent the spread of disease in all 18 prefectures where they are currently in effect, as of March 21, the day they are scheduled to expire. Tomorrow we will take a formal decision on this matter after consulting with the experts and reporting on the matter to the Diet.
The exit point for the sixth wave has come clearly into view. In light of that, I will state here our fundamental approach regarding COVID-19 heading forward.
During the campaign for the presidency of the LDP last year, I stated that my near-term goals for the fight against COVID-19 were to make COVID-19 something that could be responded to within our existing medical treatment structures, in the same way we do for seasonal influenza, and to restore nearly normal economic and social activities at the earliest possible time. However, with COVID-19, even for the Omicron strain, the case fatality rate and the rate of cases that become severe are higher than influenza and general-purpose orally administered therapeutics do not exist even now. Moreover, there is still the possibility of further strains emerging.
Taking stock of this situation, for the immediate future, from now, we will make this a period for transitioning back to normal times -- that is, it will be a time for restoring our everyday lives to the extent we can, while also maintaining the greatest possible level of vigilance and ensuring we feel both safe and at ease.
To explain this more concretely, first of all, in saying “the greatest possible level of vigilance,” I mean we will maintain the structure of our overall picture of measures that we prepared to respond to a sixth wave, and at the same time reinforce that structure in ways that are in keeping with the characteristics of the Omicron strain.
First of all, we will maintain and strengthen a medical treatment structure that is suitable for battling the Omicron strain. We will extend beyond April our support of 4.5 million yen per dedicated hospital bed and higher unit payments for dispatched nursing staff, and we will continue our support for transfers between hospitals, accepting emergency transport cases, and the care structure at elderly care facilities. We are also further increasing the number of medical institutions providing care for people recuperating at home, from 16,000 in January to 22,000.
Second is a strengthening of the outpatient treatment provided to people having fevers. Even after the lifting of the priority measures to prevent the spread of disease, it is important that people who feel they might be somewhat feverish are able to be seen quickly at a medical institution in their community. We will ask local governments to further strengthen outpatient services for people with fevers and continue to ensure a total of 36,000 such outpatient service points for people with fevers. In addition, through the cooperation of the Japan Medical Association, we have taken the decision to extend our measure that provides additional medical fees, and then, in Tokyo and Osaka Prefectures and other locations, to publicly disclose in a uniform manner the names of implementing institutions, which were until now undisclosed in some locations.
Third is ensuring we have a sufficient supply of pharmaceutical treatments. It is imperative that a person who becomes infected is able to quickly receive orally administered therapeutics and undergo treatment to prevent symptoms from becoming severe. Thus far we have secured a total of 6.5 million doses of orally administered therapeutics made by Merck and Pfizer and neutralizing antibody drugs of various types, and we will secure another 3.0 million doses. We will continue to move forward with the screening of domestically produced therapeutic medications for approval based on applications received and we will double the support we provide for conducting clinical trials.
Fourth is bolstering our screening capacity in locations that are nearby and familiar to the public. The Government will execute the necessary purchase guarantees to secure a total of 350 million antigen testing kits over the next six months, ensuring we are able to respond to another spread of infections and our economic activity needs.
And, fifth is securing additional vaccine doses. We will examine whether or not there will be a fourth round of vaccine doses based on the knowledge of our experts, but to ensure that we are able to respond whatever the outcome may be, we have already moved forward in our negotiations with Pfizer and Moderna and we now have the prospects of being able to secure the amount necessary to administer a fourth dose. In concrete terms, we have decided to purchase an additional 75.0 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine and an additional 70.0 million doses of the Moderna vaccine, securing the necessary amount so that we are able to administer these doses at the most appropriate timing, based on the most up-to-date scientific knowledge in the future.
To advance this policy I just outlined, we will use a total of 1.35 trillion yen of the COVID-19 reserve funds for fiscal year 2021 to secure the therapeutic medicines, antigen testing kits, vaccines, and so on. It is possible that these preparations may end up being unused if there is no future spread of COVID-19 infections. But I ask for the public’s understanding of the significance of restoring our socioeconomic activities as we ensure both safety and peace of mind, as well as the importance of continuing to prepare for the worst-case scenario.
Next, I will address measures to restore our daily lives to the greatest possible extent.
First is the use of vaccine administration histories and testing kits. We will recommend the use of vaccine administration histories and antigen testing kits in the future at events, during travel, at gatherings of large numbers of people, and on other such occasions as a way to increase safety and help people feel more at ease.
Second is placing greater importance on the range of people who are “close contacts” with COVID-19 patients and shortening the quarantine period. With the spread of Omicron strain infections, there has been an increase in the number of people who, despite having no symptoms, have had to take time off from work after being deemed a “close contact” of someone infected, and many say this is hindering business operations. Based on arrangements made by experts, and in accordance with the state of infections in communities, we will limit the identification of “close contacts” to medical institutions, elderly care facilities, and similar establishments, as well as within households, and not designate “close contacts” in the case of general business establishments that are taking precautions to prevent infections. Also, for people in the general public other than essential workers, the widespread usage of testing kits
Third is the administration of vaccines. Through cooperation from the Self-Defense Forces, local governments, medical practitioners, and many others, we achieved the administration of 1 million vaccine doses per day in mid-February, and our vaccination rate has already surpassed that of the United States. As of the end of March, a total of 81 million people will have had vouchers mailed to them, and we expect that roughly 80 percent of the elderly will have finished getting the inoculation. We will move forward with our preparations to enable us to begin administering a third dose to those ages 12 to 17 from April. For young people as well, we will continue to make every possible effort to enable as many who wish to receive the vaccine to get it as soon as possible.
As for measures to stimulate tourism demand, along with the end of priority measures to prevent the spread of disease, premised on the agreement of relevant organizations, from April 1 we will be expanding the system of discounts for residents living in the same prefecture as the tourist site to a system giving discounts to residents of regional blocks. At that time, we will incorporate efforts that make use of vaccine administration histories and testing kits into the conditions for use, thereby enabling people to enjoy trips across prefectural boundaries while feeling at ease. We will continue to carefully examine the nationwide “Go To” programs as well.
I have just overviewed our fundamental approach to our future COVID-19 measures, but it is the situation of our children that has worried me the most. In places all around the country, I have heard many worried voices saying, under the impact of two years of COVID-19, “I’m afraid my child is behind where she should be in her studies,” or “I’m afraid my child has become unable to express himself emotionally because he is always wearing a mask.” In order to minimize the harmful effects of COVID-19, while asking experts across a broad range of specialties for their opinions, we will continue to advance our consideration of what should be done and press forward with our efforts in order to achieve a balance between preventing infections and realizing healthy learning, prioritizing what is best for the children.
And, from now we will head into the end of the current fiscal and academic year and start a new year, a season in which many people gather together and interact with each other. Even in this period of transition in which we restore our daily lives as much as possible, I ask once again that you maintain the highest level of vigilance and refrain from activities having a high risk of COVID-19 infection while thoroughly carrying out the basic preventive measures of wearing masks, washing your hands, avoiding the three Cs [of closed spaces, crowded spaces, and close-contact settings], and ensuring good air circulation.
Neither Russian aggression against Ukraine nor responses to COVID-19 are issues for which we can find solutions overnight. While there are no universal solutions, through my strong determination to overcome these difficulties no matter what, I will move forward by steadily building up one by one those things that can be done to benefit the Japanese people.