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Speeches and Statements by the Prime Minister

[COVID-19] Press Conference by the Prime Minister

December 25, 2020

[Provisional Translation]
Opening Statement

Today I am holding this press conference to explain the current situation regarding the novel coronavirus to the citizens and make additional requests regarding the New Year’s holidays.

It has been almost a year since we began our battle with the virus. As we enter our first winter, infections are spreading, primarily in Greater Tokyo. With the number of new infections continuing at the high level of more than 3,000 per day, the sense of unease is also increasing among all of you.

First and foremost, I want to express my respect and gratitude to all the medical professionals and nursing home personnel as well as everyone else fighting against the virus on the front lines.

During this battle, we have consistently listened to the advice of the experts, in particular Dr. OMI [Shigeru, chair of the Advisory Committee on the Basic Action Policy], and taken measures to protect people’s lives and livelihoods. With the Government of Japan protecting employment through the Employment Adjustment Subsidies and other measures and launching efforts for businesses to continue their operations, the unemployment rate has remained at 2.9 percent, a low level compared to other countries. I deeply appreciate the great amount of cooperation that you have extended to us regarding shortened operating hours at dining establishments, the suspension of the Go To campaigns, and teleworking, among others.

Against that backdrop, I deeply regret attending a dinner party the other day despite my position of requesting citizens to avoid dining in large groups. I once again offer my apologies.

As you are all aware, in Tokyo this month the number of people out in public has hardly decreased at all. If this situation continues, it will be impossible to avoid infections spreading further. I ask wholeheartedly for your cooperation. I request that you spend the New Year’s holidays that begin tomorrow quietly. While I imagine there are many opportunities to gather with family members and friends, I ask that everyone refrain from gatherings as much as possible. I ask for your cooperation so that we can manage to hold back the spread of infections over the holidays.

Over the New Year’s holidays, medical institutions also need to scale back their on-duty personnel. We need the cooperation of every single citizen so as not to increase the burden on medical institutions any further. The Government has doubled the amount of support paid to doctors and nurses dispatched to respond to coronavirus cases, to 15,000 yen per hour for doctors and 5,500 yen per hour for nurses.  Moreover, today we decided to provide hospitals accepting coronavirus patients an additional budget of 270 billion yen as emergency assistance. In order to support health professionals devoting themselves at the frontline, we will urgently allocate a subsidy up to 15 million yen per hospital bed, with 28,000 beds eligible for this assistance nationwide. Through this funding, we will increase the number of beds for responding to coronavirus cases and improve worker benefits at medical institutions. By doing so, we will responsibly make medical institutions fully prepared and enable citizens to receive the medical treatment they need.

Throughout this fight against the coronavirus, experts have consistently pointed out the risk of infection at dining establishments. Many “invisible infections,” which account for roughly 60 percent of cases in Tokyo, are regarded as having been caused by dining. Shortening the operating hours of dining establishments is said to be the most effective measure inhibiting infections. The establishments cooperating with our request are bearing heavy burdens. This is truly regrettable. Moving forward, with an aim to return to our pre-coronavirus daily lives as early as possible through more active cooperation throughout communities, we have doubled the amount of our assistance for dining establishments from a maximum of 600,000 yen to 1.2 million yen per month. In addition to this, we have prepared a full range of measures to support business owners, including interest-free loans of up to 40 million yen requiring no collateral. I sincerely request cooperation from those business operators.

> Furthermore, regarding the shortening of the operating hours of these establishments, we will consider amending the special measures law so that we are able to take more effective measures by a pairing of benefits with penalties. However, as for the penalties, even in the Subcommittee on Novel Coronavirus Disease Control, the experts’ views are divided with some having the opinion that we should reinforce restrictions while others take a cautious view towards restricting private rights. Going forward, we will swiftly advance our consideration of this matter within the Subcommittee.

We will also enhance our border control measures. As for the matter of the coronavirus variant in the UK, beginning yesterday we strengthened our measures by, among other steps, denying the entry of foreign nationals who have stayed in the UK. We have also decided to deny entry to foreign nationals who have stayed in South Africa, in the same way we did regarding the UK.  We will continue to place the highest priority on protecting the health and lives of our citizens and expeditiously reinforce our border control measures as we keep an eye on the situation in other countries.

In addition to that, what will ultimately be the deciding factor in combating the infection is vaccines. In the U.S. and the UK, vaccination is already underway. Clinical trials have begun in Japan as well, with the data scheduled to be compiled in February. The relevant ministries and agencies are working in unison to press forward with their work so that once the trials are completed, after conducting screening that puts the highest priority on both safety and effectiveness, we will be able to begin giving the approved vaccine to those needing it at the earliest possible time.

As for the Go To campaigns, the Go To travel campaign got underway in July and a cumulative total of roughly 70 million people have used it, with around 340 cases of infection identified. I believe this has made a substantial contribution to supporting local economies. Last month, on the recommendation of the experts, we took the measure of suspending the campaign in Hokkaido, Osaka, and Tokyo. This was a decision I took after wrestling with it for quite some time. I also decided to temporarily suspend the campaign nationally with a view to taking intensive measures over the New Year’s holidays.

Over the course of time, people in rural areas have given us words of support regarding the Go To campaigns. Yet at the same time, there have been words of criticism, saying it has been confusing and also unsettling to take measures to combat the coronavirus while simultaneously promoting the Go To campaigns. In some aspects, my explanation to the public regarding novel coronavirus countermeasures was not sufficient; from now, I will make an effort to be thorough in my communications with the citizens.

One hundred days have now passed since I took office. As I pledged during the Liberal Democratic Party’s presidential campaign, I have first and foremost made all-out efforts to battle the novel coronavirus, and moreover I have worked on issues that have been put off in Japan for quite some time, such as a green society, digital transformation, and measures to address the declining birthrate, to the best of my ability in order to provide solutions to these issues and paint a portrait of Japan’s future in concrete fashion. Regarding fertility treatments, beginning next month, we will increase the amount of subsidies and eliminate income caps. From FY2022, we will begin covering the treatments under public health insurance. As for mobile phone charges, major mobile phone operators have once after another announced data plans of 20 gigabytes for 2,980 yen, roughly half the current price.

In order to step out towards a bright future, what is necessary is first of all to stop the spread of novel coronavirus infections further. This will be a repeated request for cooperation, following the declaration of the state of emergency in April and the spread of infections in the summer; in order to protect the lives and livelihoods of each of you, your family members, and others who are important to you, I ask once again that you spend the New Year’s holidays quietly so that our medical care system can somehow hold out until vaccinations begin.

I ask that you spend the holidays quietly in small numbers, with family members and people dear to you. I ask for your help in order to get the infection situation settled as soon as possible, restore our daily lives to what we enjoyed before infections began, and realize a society brimming with hope.


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