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Speeches and Statements by the Prime Minister

[COVID-19] Press Conference by the Prime Minister

March 14, 2020

Opening Statement
Yesterday, an amendment to the Act on Special Measures for Pandemic Influenza and New Infectious Diseases Preparedness and Response, related to the novel coronavirus disease, was enacted.

Through this, if by any chance in the future the situation is deemed to have reached a state of emergency, it will be possible to take, based on this law, various measures to prevent the wide spread of infection and maintain societal functions.

As we face this national crisis, we must transcend differences in political positions and carry out our responsibility to the people. I express my deep appreciation to all those concerned in both the ruling and opposition parties who shared this conviction and cooperated tremendously in conducting Diet deliberations and enacting the bill expeditiously.

In the first place, the national government and local authorities are acting as one to avoid such an emergency situation arising, implementing relevant measures to prevent the spread of infection while asking the public to accept substantial difficulties and inconveniences.

The purpose of this legislation is solely to prepare for the worst just in case, alongside these efforts. In determining the existence of a state of emergency, which could lead to the restriction of various private rights, we intend to make a careful judgment while also seeking out the opinions of experts.

Currently, the number of infectious cases is trending upward. However, compared to other countries where the number of infected is increasing at a rapid pace, in Japan the speed of increase is holding steady. That is the view experts announced this week.

While the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a pandemic this week, if we compare the number of infections per 10,000 people in the population, Japan stands at only 0.06. We have kept the number down to a low level compared to the Republic of Korea, China, 13 European countries including Italy, and three Middle Eastern countries including Iran.

Given this situation, we have concluded that at the present time we are not in circumstances for declaring a state of emergency.

That said, the situation is ever-changing. We will maintain a high degree of vigilance as we intently watch how the situation develops, and should it be necessary in order to safeguard the lives and health of the public, I intend to execute, in accordance with procedures, the measures provided for in legislation.

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A little over two weeks have passed since experts indicated the view that we would be at a critical moment over the following one to two weeks regarding whether the outbreak spreads rapidly or is controlled, as I stated during the previous press conference.

And at present, experts’ assessment is that Japan’s situation as of today is not moving toward an explosive spread of infections, and appears to be somewhat holding steady.

I express my heartfelt thanks to all the Japanese people for the tremendous cooperation they have provided at their workplaces, at their schools, at home, and in their communities in preventing the spread of infections over the more than two weeks until now.

Various kinds of sports tournaments scheduled for this month, including the spring National High School Baseball Invitational Tournament, have also been canceled. I can only imagine the great frustration felt by the students who devoted themselves to intense practice day in and day out, aiming at achieving a spot in those tournaments.

I pledge to make my very best efforts to restore, at the earliest possible time, the day you can demonstrate your ability to the fullest in front of your families and classmates supporting you, and compete against your rivals fair and square.

Yet despite that, the current situation is that we are still unable to let down our guard.

I ask once again for your ongoing cooperation until the experts analyze our efforts thus far and release their conclusions.

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While the novel coronavirus disease has had many unknowns, as we moved forward in the measures we have pursued until now, many things have come to be understood.

According to the data compiled to date, 80 percent of people in whom infection has been confirmed and who are also symptomatic experience only mild cases. Even among people suffering severe cases, roughly half have recovered. Including cases from the cruise ship, more than 40 percent of those infected, amounting to some 600 people, have already recovered and have been discharged from the hospital.

At the same time, those who died are concentrated among the elderly and those with underlying conditions.

From this week we have begun distributing masks to nursing care facilities for the elderly around the country, and we need to make more such efforts towards preventing infection.

We also consider it vital for us to concentrate our testing and medical care resources to prevent symptoms from becoming severe.

Regarding the infectiousness of the virus, roughly 80 percent of those confirmed to have contracted the virus thus far have not infected other people. In other words, it is not the case that the infection will spread from person to person, one after the other.

At the same time, in specific kinds of places such as fitness centers and live music bars, there have been reports of instances in which clusters of infections have been confirmed.

The points in common are, first, that they were closed spaces with poor ventilation; second, they were crowded with many people; and third, that conversations and vocalizations took place in close proximity. Mass infections were confirmed where those three conditions were met simultaneously.

Places where these three conditions meet simultaneously have a high risk of infection. I want everyone to be on guard against such conditions to the highest possible degree. I once again ask everyone to take actions to safeguard their own wellbeing.

To rephrase this, we can lower the risk of infection by avoiding places where these three conditions meet simultaneously, or by taking measures so as to avoid as much as possible these three conditions arising at the same time.

These two weeks, schools have not been in session and there may be a large number of children who have spent most of their day inside their homes. In order to maintain their health and relieve stress, do please make opportunities for them to go outside and get some exercise, in safe environments where, for example, care has been taken not to have people gather closely together.

Regarding graduation ceremonies scheduled in the coming days as well, I very much hope that they are held, taking necessary precautions to ensure safety.

Despite the strict conditions imposed, educational institutions around the country are undertaking truly diverse and unique arrangements to celebrate children’s once-in-a-lifetime graduations, such as enabling parents and guardians unable to attend ceremonies to participate online and having faculty play musical instruments to bring ceremonies without attendees to life. I appreciate those efforts.

To all those graduating, please accept my congratulations.

I feel it to be truly regrettable that schools were closed during this important period in which you would have made your final memories. The bonds of friendship you have cultivated with your teachers and friends will never fade. I hope you will continue to be highly successful, each following your own path, as you hold those bonds of friendship dear.

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Creating places for small children to spend the day, providing allowances to parents who have come to have no choice but to miss work, and providing assistance to meal service providers and dairy farmers facing difficulties because school lunches have been canceled -- we incorporated responses to various problems such as these, which have arisen alongside school closures, into the second emergency response package decided this week.

The novel coronavirus disease is causing enormous impacts on the economy overall. We understand that for micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises, in particular, the situation is very serious, to the extent that it could affect business continuity.

We must engage in all possible means to enable micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises, which are the core of local economies, to continue their businesses. By doing so, we will firmly protect employment and places to work in these local areas, and I am determined to achieve this.

In order to overcome the current challenging circumstances, we have made the Employment Adjustment Subsidies available to businesses in every type of industry. In addition, without being constrained by past practices, we have decided to implement at a national scale strong liquidity measures that are interest-free in real terms and do not require collateral.

For liabilities that already exist, we are asking private-sector financial institutions to work on changes in loan conditions, such as grace periods for repayment, in a swift and flexible manner.

As we approach the end of the fiscal year, we will do everything possible to shore up our preparedness, through 430 billion yen in budgetary measures and 1.6 trillion yen in financial measures.

We have set up more than one thousand consultation centers nationwide, so by all means please provide us with feedback if any issues are encountered, such as a scheme being difficult to use.

In light of increasing concerns over an economic downturn, we intend to introduce measures for the immediate future to assist people worried about their daily lives.

As the infection spreads around the globe, markets worldwide, including in Japan, are shaky, and there are worries about a further downturn in the global economy in the future. We will continue to expeditiously implement necessary and sufficient economic and fiscal policies without pause.

At present, our highest priority lies in preventing the spread of infection. Afterwards, we will in one burst put forward bold and unprecedented policies in order to return the Japanese economy once more to a solid growth trajectory and restore among the public smiling faces full of energy.

We will hammer out those concrete measures through the all-out efforts of the national government and the ruling parties, thoroughly reflecting the current status of local economies. I want Japan to overcome the current difficult situation through listening to the voices coming from communities and from workplaces, with people in every corner of the nation acting with one mind, truly as one team.

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In the latest package of emergency measures, we also incorporated measures aimed at preventing the spread of infection, the greatest issue we face.

With respect to polymerase chain reaction (PCR) screening, thanks to various efforts, we are now able to conduct accurate screening of more than 6,000 cases daily, a 50 percent increase since my last press conference.

The development of rapid test kits able to screen cases in a short time is also progressing smoothly, and there are now prospects for being able to begin using a portion of them within March. We will also work to enhance our capacity further by providing assistance to introduce equipment in private-sector screening institutions.

Thanks to these efforts, we expect our capacity to be expanded within March to reach up to 8,000 screenings a day.

Making use of this, we will work towards early detection of and early responses to group infections, known as clusters, and work to link these to early diagnosis of the infected, preventing symptoms from progressing to a severe stage.

It is a matter of great urgency that we put a medical treatment structure in place that is prepared for emergency situations. By further increasing nationally the number of beds in designated medical institutions for infectious diseases, we have already secured more than 12,000 available beds.

Regarding ventilators, which are necessary in treating severely ill patients, we have secured 3,000 at present and, having established budgetary provisions, are now working to prepare more.

Currently, there is no way forward other than tenaciously treating the symptoms of the infection, as no definitive medications or vaccines exist. That is the greatest cause of global unease.

In the telephone talks I held with U.S. President Trump yesterday, we agreed to work in close cooperation in researching and developing pharmaceutical treatments.

We intend to accelerate in one push the development of pharmaceutical treatments and other treatment methods by bringing together wisdom from around the world, including not only Japan but also the United States, Europe, and moreover the WHO. Japan will demonstrate leadership in this area.

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The worldwide spread of the outbreak is still ongoing.

As I mentioned earlier, what we are able to do right now is, first of all, to limit the explosive spread of the infection. By doing so, we will be able to provide appropriate medical care to all those suffering from severe symptoms and avoid what is called a collapse of the medical care system.

Beyond that, we can delay the peak of the outbreak as much as possible. That will enable us to buy time until a pharmaceutical treatment or other treatment method is developed.

While this will surely cause great difficulties for our nation, I ask for ongoing cooperation from each and every one of you.

This is not a solitary battle waged only by Japan. The entire world is now confronting the novel coronavirus, our common enemy.

Yesterday, after speaking with President Trump, I also confirmed cooperation with President Macron of France. Making use of the frameworks of the G7 and the G20, I intend for Japan to take the lead in the unified efforts of the international community, including those in economic policies.

Humankind has been exposed to the threat of infectious diseases countless times until now, and we have overcome that threat every time. If the world joins hands, no difficulty will be insurmountable.

Regarding the Diamond Princess cruise ship, tomorrow, the quarantine response for all passengers and crew will be completed.

Although this was an unprecedented mission truly fraught with difficulties, battling an invisible virus in a ship carrying more than 3,700 people, we are able to bring to a close our quarantine response to all those who were on the ship.

I wish to extend my appreciation for the cooperation extended to us recently by various countries, such as by them dispatching charter flights to repatriate their nationals. In addition, I want to express my heartfelt respect for all those, including medical personnel, who made all-out efforts over a month and a half, quite a long time, in a severe work environment.

I have the highest confidence that, as long as we join forces, we will be able to overcome any and all difficulties, bar none.

I will end my opening statement here.


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