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Speeches and Statements by the Prime Minister

[COVID-19] Press Conference by the Prime Minister regarding the Novel Coronavirus

May 14, 2020

[Provisional Translation]
 
 
[Opening Statement]

Today we decided to lift the declaration of the state of emergency for 39 prefectures, which excludes four prefectures in the Kanto region, three in the Kansai region, and Hokkaido.

That assessment was made by drawing up, in cooperation with the experts, three objective criteria for lifting the declaration, including specific figures and other aspects, namely, the state of infections, medical treatment structures, and surveillance structures.

We decided to examine comprehensively factors such as new infections trending downward when comparing the situation between the previous two weeks, the total number of infected people being held down to less than 0.5 people per 100,000 in total this past week, and additionally the state of new cases whose routes of infection are unknown.

In light of these criteria, we judged that all 39 prefectures have successfully suppressed the spread of infections to a level at which prevention is possible by thoroughly implementing counter-cluster measures going forward. We also consider the medical care situation to be improving, given that, for example, the number of patients with severe symptoms is decreasing, while the testing system is functioning adequately in order to assess the trend in the number of new cases of infections.

With the endorsement of the Advisory Committee on the Basic Action Policy, including Dr. OMI Shigeru, chair of the committee, regarding this evaluation, we have decided to lift the declaration of a state of emergency in 39 prefectures effective today, moving the end date forward from the end of May. We will take that decision at the meeting of the Novel Coronavirus Response Headquarters to be held after this press conference.

In the remaining eight prefectures, in addition to the significant decrease in the number of cases of infection, the number of patients with severe symptoms requiring ventilators has also decreased in Tokyo and Osaka to roughly 60 percent compared to the peak. However, we still consider there to be an ongoing risk. We ask for citizens’ continued cooperation in refraining from going out and other efforts, without letting down their guard. We also ask citizens to refrain from travel to areas outside their respective home regions.

On the 21st, one week from today, we aim to once again have the experts assess the situation at that juncture in light of criteria we have just decided for lifting the declaration and rescind the declaration if possible, without waiting for the 31st.

I once again express my respect for the devoted efforts of our healthcare workers. Thanks to the all-out care they provide, the number of patients who left the hospital or otherwise recovered from this infectious disease has now surpassed 10,000 people in total. The situation of our medical system that has been stretched is also improving as a whole.

The number of new cases of infection nationwide, which had increased at one time to almost 700 a day, is now moving forward at a level below 100 per day. Over the past month, this figure has decreased to less than one-seventh of its former level. All of this is the result of the actions of each citizen who cooperated with the request to refrain from going out and so on. I once again extend my heartfelt appreciation.

And through the lifting of the declaration of a state of emergenc
y in many areas, today is the day to make a full-fledged start towards creating a new normal for our everyday lives in the age of the coronavirus.

Based on advice from experts, over 80 kinds of industries, including restaurants and other eating establishments, department stores and shopping arcades, shops of various kinds, movie theaters, theaters, museums, art museums and other kinds of cultural facilities, public transportation, and also hotels and Japanese-style inns, compiled guidelines today for preventing infections in their respective fields. These are guidelines for protecting the workers at those places from the risk of infection, as well as guidelines that allow consumers to use these services and facilities with peace of mind.

We would like business operators, starting from the areas where the declaration has been lifted, to conduct business at full swing while referring to these guidelines. We would like to create together a new normal for everyday life.

That being said, no guidelines can reduce the risk of infection to zero. Even after the state of emergency is lifted, the virus will certainly remain present all around us.

In late February, Hokkaido declared its own state of emergency, which succeeded in reducing the number of cases of infection there significantly; however, about two or three weeks after the state of emergency was lifted in mid-March, the number of cases again began an upward trend. In Germany as well, there were areas where the number of cases began increasing immediately after restrictions on people’s actions were eased and a return to lockdowns became unavoidable. Even in Singapore, which was initially said to have succeeded in suppressing the spread of infections, the number of cases later increased dramatically. In the Republic of Korea too, many of you have seen the news that a group infection arose at nightclubs last week.
Just as people let down their guard, the infection spreads in one big wave. Right when everything is brought back to the way it used to be, the infection spreads in an instant. This is the most frightening aspect of this virus. We have three requests to make of people in the areas where the declaration will be lifted, so that we do not let the efforts made thus far go to waste.

The first is to start little by little, step by step. We will no longer ask those of you in the areas where the declaration has been lifted to refrain from going out. Nevertheless, at the beginning, we would like you to continue to do your best in reducing direct contact with people as much as possible, by, for example, avoiding face-to-face meetings with others or using the telephone for conducting business whenever you can. Even in the areas where the declaration has been lifted, we ask that you refrain from crossing prefectural borders as much as possible, at least until the end of this month. We ask that you bring your regular day-to-day lives back gradually.

The second request is to continue positive changes as much as possible even after this. In the case of office work, teleworking has become popularized over the past month, thanks to many people’s efforts. We ask you to keep making these constructive changes, while improving what needs to be improved. Efforts such as staggered commuting hours are also effective in averting congestion, and we very much hope that you continue these efforts into the future.

The third request is not to let down your guard against the virus in any aspects of your daily lives. In addition to of course being diligent about washing your hands, maintaining sufficient distance from others at all times and avoiding crowded spaces. When heading out, you should be sure to wear a mask and avoid close contact with others as much as possible, and opt for outdoor over indoor settings and avoid closed spaces. We ask you to avoid those three Cs in all aspects of your daily lives, referring to the new lifestyle proposed by the experts. In particular, we would like to ask you to continue to refrain from visiting restaurants where staff entertain customers, bars or nightclubs, karaoke parlors, and clubs with live music in night entertainment districts, where the three Cs overlap in a more concentrated way. As all of these are places where group infections have been confirmed thus far, we reiterate our request that you take actions to protect yourselves.

We will suppress the spread of infections by this virus while simultaneously restoring socio-economic activities at a full scale. Nothing could be more difficult than this. Efforts by each and every individual are more essential than ever. On the premise of living our everyday lives with the virus -- the premise that the virus will be present around us -- we will restore our normal jobs and our day-to-day living while controlling the infection risk as much as possible. We will need to firmly establish a new normal for our everyday lives over time, through experiencing occasional trial and error.

The world has yet to find any solution that assures us all will be fine if we do this or that. We must be ready for what could be a long road ahead. If that is the case, during that time, we must protect at any cost employment and our daily lives. We will advance step by step along the path to a new normal for everyday life together with you. To this end, it is necessary to introduce measures that are one step stronger; that is our assessment.

To reinforce the recent supplementary budget at a scale of 117 trillion yen, the government will immediately start formulating a second supplementary budget. I will give instructions on this at the meeting of the Novel Coronavirus Response Headquarters held after this press conference. In order to protect the livelihoods of those who had to temporarily close their businesses, we will fundamentally enhance the Employment Adjustment Subsidies. We will raise the amount of subsidies from what had been capped at just over 8,000 yen per day to 15,000 yen per day, an amount at the most generous level anywhere worldwide, as a special measure. Furthermore, we will establish a new scheme enabling those who are employed to apply directly and receive cash directly.

The worldwide spread of the infection has no end in sight. The global economy is facing a very crisis that comes only once in a century, beyond comparison with the financial shock after the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Even world-leading major corporations are suffering significant damage. Against that backdrop, it is absolutely imperative to prevent a situation where a chain of bankruptcies occurs. We will firmly support the business continuity of major corporations and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) as well as those in between by further strengthening liquidity support and, if necessary, making it possible to inject a sufficient scale of funds in a flexible manner.

As of the first of the month, we began accepting applications for the Sustainability Subsidy (Subsidy Program for Sustaining Businesses), which provides up to two million yen in cash, entirely unrestricted in the purpose of its use, to micro-, small-, and medium-sized business operators. We started disbursing funds to applicants one week later by having thoroughly simplified the procedures. This week alone, we have provided a total of more than 100 billion yen in cash to more than 80,000 SMEs and individual business owners. We will further accelerate such efforts along with providing loans interest free in real terms with principal repayment deferred for a maximum of five years, to enable them to survive cash management issues expected at the end of the month.

In addition, as the impact of the infectious disease is lingering, we will also establish a new subsidy program to reduce rent burdens. We will vigorously support micro-, small-, and medium-sized operators, the core of local economies, in continuing their businesses by introducing all possible means, including a subsidy of up to 1.5 million yen to support next steps in their businesses such as introducing infection prevention measures.
We will also expand significantly grants for local governments to support their efforts against this infectious disease. We will work in close cooperation with local governments and make all possible preparations to prevent the next wave of infections from happening to the greatest possible extent and, should it occur, minimize the impact of the wave as much as possible.

When doctors deem it necessary, testing will be carried out immediately; an antigen testing kit that received pharmaceutical approval yesterday will be a major weapon in that arsenal. Antigen testing utilizes the same mechanism as influenza testing, which many of you have experienced at hospitals. Unlike PCR tests, which require up to six hours, results are available in a mere 30 minutes or so, making it easy to identify positive cases at medical facilities. When the virus is present in large amounts, the detection sensitivity of antigen testing is equivalent to that of PCR tests. We expect that identifying highly infectious people at an early time will be greatly effective in preventing the spread of infection.

We expect that next month testing kids will be supplied for 20 to 30 thousand people per day. We will utilize these in combination with the PCR tests in use thus far to strengthen our screening capacity in terms of both volume and speed.

With regard to PCR tests, we will accelerate our efforts to introduce screening using saliva. Compared to the method in use until now in which samples are taken from the back of the nasal passages, we expect that it will significantly reduce the risk of infection for those administering the tests and contribute to an increase in the number of tests administered. We will do everything possible to create a structure to conduct tests smoothly when a doctor deems testing necessary. By doing so, we intend to suppress the spread of infection in communities to the greatest possible extent.

As for Remdesivir, approved as a therapeutic medicine for patients with severe symptoms, we have secured the amount necessary to treat patients with severe symptoms nationwide, and we have begun administering it at medical institutions. Regarding Avigan, if its effectiveness is confirmed, we will aim to have it approved within May. Moreover, Futhan (Nafamostat mesylate), Actemra (Tocilizumab), and Ivermectin are all drugs Japan discovered. Their side effects and other properties have already been identified through their use as therapeutic medicines for other illnesses, and given that fact, their safety upon prescription has already been confirmed. Clinical research and trials are already underway and, once their effectiveness in treating this infectious disease is confirmed, we intend to aim for early pharmaceutical approval. Insofar as the advantages of each drug differ, we also expect to see further therapeutic effects by combining them in an effective way. While minimizing or delaying the wave of infections to the greatest possible extent to avoid explosive increases in infections, we intend to establish effective methods of treatment as early as possible.

The possibility of another wave of infections always exists. Shifting our socioeconomic activities into full swing towards a new mode for everyday lives naturally heightens that risk. Without each of us maintaining adequate vigilance, there is no telling what the future holds for us two weeks from now. If the rate of increase in the number of cases rises, a second declaration of a state of emergency is also a possibility. We are laying out our approach in making such a decision. If we have the cooperation of the public, we will be able to avoid such a situation.

In late February, I made the request for schools all around Japan to close temporarily and for refraining from holding large-scale events. We placed tremendous burdens on the people, but as a result of that, we succeeded in holding down the first wave of infection arriving from China. That has been inferred from a genome analysis conducted by the National Institute of Infectious Diseases. I thank you for your cooperation.

Through your efforts for more than a month now, we are now also suppressing the second wave, which came from Europe and the United States. We have succeeded in curbing Japan’s number of infections per capita and number of fatalities to become overwhelmingly limited among the G7. This is an objective fact clearly borne out by the numbers.
This is all thanks to the cooperation extended by all of you. We have been imposing significant inconveniences. I believe people are accumulating considerable stress as their daily lives with numerous restrictions continue for quite some time. But, our efforts to date are most definitely yielding good results. Now, we are poised to restore our socioeconomic activities at a full scale, while simultaneously preventing the spread of infection. We will take the first steps to tackle the extremely difficult challenge of creating a new normal for our everyday lives. I am firmly convinced that with the cooperation of the public, we will most certainly overcome even this challenge.

I will end my remarks here.
 
 
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