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Speeches and Statements by the Prime Minister

New Year's Press Conference by the Prime Minister

January 4, 2021

[Provisional Translation]

[Opening statement]

I wish you all a very happy new year.

In a normal year, I would have held this New Year’s press conference after paying a visit to Ise Jingu to pray for a huge harvest and for the happiness of the people. But this year, given the current novel coronavirus situation, I have postponed my visit to a more appropriate time and this press conference came to be held here at the Prime Minister’s Office.

I recognize the novel coronavirus situation as extremely severe, with the number of new cases continuing to exceed 3,000 per day and the number of patients with severe symptoms also remaining at a high level.

First and foremost I wish to express my heartfelt appreciation to those who have been fighting on the front lines against this virus even over the New Year’s holidays, in particular healthcare professionals and nursing care providers, and also to citizens who refrained from heading out into public or visiting their hometowns.

In light of such a severe situation, the Government intends once again to reinforce its measures against the novel coronavirus. We have determined that we will implement robust countermeasures in the four areas of, first and foremost, measures to inhibit infections, then also border control measures, supporting medical treatment structure, and commencing vaccinations at an early date.

Firstly, I will outline our measures to prevent infections. The number of people out in public in December decreased in a large number of locations; in Tokyo and its neighboring prefectures, the number of people in downtown districts at night did not decrease much. What has become clear since last year as we undertook countermeasures is, as our experts have pointed out, dining is the cause of many cases in which the route of transmission is unknown. Accordingly, it is imperative that we reduce the risk of infection while dining. For that reason, the most effective way forward is for us to get the citizens’ cooperation in avoiding nighttime gatherings and in shortening the operating hours of dining and drinking establishments. As for the four prefectures of Tokyo, Saitama, Chiba, and Kanagawa, we have recently once again made a request that business operations of those establishments be shortened, with closing time moved to 8 PM. The Government will also commence its deliberations over the declaration of a state of emergency. We will immediately hold thoroughgoing discussions on the specifics of such a declaration to effectively reduce infection risk associated with dining. Moreover, we will submit a special measures bill to the ordinary session of the Diet with a view to devise more effective measures by pairing benefits with penalties.

The second area is border control measures. At the end of last year coronavirus variants were discovered from Japanese nationals returning from overseas, and we have reinforced our border control measures by denying new entry to foreign nationals in principle. Regarding the so-called Business Track as well, we will immediately halt entry to Japan should coronavirus variants be discovered within any countries with which we have agreed on such a framework.

The third area is the medical treatment structure. In a number of cities, including Tokyo in particular, the medical treatment structure for novel coronavirus patients is being stretched. It is imperative that the number of hospitals and the number of beds available to accept novel coronavirus patients in areas around the country be increased. The Government will ensure adequate staffing, including nurses, and thoroughly provide financial support, and at the same time work to secure sufficient numbers of hospital beds through concerted efforts with local governments. We will not hesitate to dispatch medical teams from the Self-Defense Forces should the need arise. We will avoid the collapse of the medical system at all costs and provide necessary medical treatment to those needing it.

The fourth area is vaccines, which will serve as the decisive factor in our measures to battle infections. It was originally scheduled that the pharmaceutical company’s clinical trial data would be compiled within February; the Government of Japan made a strong request of its global headquarters in the United States and we are now on track to have these data compiled within January. On top of that, the Government is working as one in making preparations to begin administering the vaccine, which will be approved through our assessment of safety and efficacy, by late February, as much as possible. We will start vaccination once ready, proceeding in order beginning with healthcare professionals, the elderly, and workers at facilities for the elderly. I myself will take the lead in receiving a shot of the vaccine.

Until the vaccine becomes available, it is critical that the Government, local governments, and citizens all take actions, looking in the same direction, so as to turn the spread of infections into a decreasing trend. From now we are heading into the season for parties to celebrate the new year. However, I ask everyone to continue to refrain from going out for non-essential, non-urgent reasons.

The measures to tackle the virus, whether the variants we have had in Japan until now or the new variants, are the same. I ask the citizens to wear masks, wash their hands, and avoid the three Cs (closed spaces, crowded spaces, and close-contact settings). Now is the time for us to overcome this crisis, together with all of you. I ask sincerely for your cooperation in this regard.

In order to first contain novel coronavirus infections and then bring the Japanese economy back to its growth trajectory again and let it lead the world, we have, for more than one hundred days since I took office, continued to advance reforms not relying on conventional thinking.  We will materialize reforms starting from what we can do immediately, delivering results to the citizens. I intend to make 2021 that kind of year.

As for mobile phone charges, major mobile phone operators have one after another announced that they will create new large data plans for roughly half the current price, bringing us to a major juncture heading towards fully-fledged competition.

Moreover, to advance regional revitalization, we will allocate grants totaling 1.5 trillion yen, intending for local governments to use these funds to rebuild their local communities. We will also engage in building national resilience at a scale of 15 trillion yen over five years. As for exports of agricultural products, under a new ambitious plan, we will provide firm support for local areas producing priority items such as rice and beef.

Furthermore, the driving forces of growth in the next era will be “digital” and “green.” We will launch an agency in charge of digital transformation in September and get relevant reforms underway in earnest at last. We aim at a digitalized society in which talented digital professionals will be actively at work in government offices at both the national and local levels as well as in private sector companies, and simultaneously all citizens can tangibly experience the benefits of digital transformation. Also, aiming at achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, we will make the green growth strategy, which we compiled at the end of last year, even more concrete and start implementing it beginning with what we can do immediately. Making use of a fund of 2 trillion yen and the tax system, we will carry out large-scale investments in facilities as well as in research and development, with storage batteries, the key to renewable energies, heading the list. We will continue to deploy such growth-oriented policies going forward.

I will make this year one in which future generations are able to have hope by making great strides forward in tackling the declining birthrate, one of Japan’s longstanding and paramount challenges. We will begin to have fertility treatments covered by public health insurance from April 2022. For the subsidy system currently in place, we will eliminate its income cap and double the amount of subsidies for the second round of treatment and after. On top of that, once the FY2021 budget is passed, these provisions will be applied retroactively back to January 1. In addition, we will prepare childcare arrangements for 140,000 children over the next four years, thereby resolving the issue of childcare waiting lists for good. Additionally, as a major reform undertaken for the first time in 40 years, beginning this year we will reduce elementary school class sizes to a maximum of 35 students, which has been an issue for many years. By doing so we will make great headway in providing education well-tailored to each student. Going forward, I intend to continue these kinds of countermeasures against the declining birthrate and policies that benefit young people.

The coronavirus has created confrontations in the world and we are still unable to find signs of healing. Particularly in light of this backdrop, I intend to place great importance on multilateralism and demonstrate leadership in creating the post-coronavirus order. The United States is our most important partner in such an endeavor. I intend to meet President-elect Biden as soon as possible after he takes office and make the bonds of the Japan-U.S. Alliance more robust. I also intend to build a relationship such that we work in close cooperation to resolve most importantly the abductions issue, and also issues facing the international community. Taking this Japan-U.S. Alliance as the cornerstone, Japan will deepen its cooperation with various countries and regions, including Australia, India, Europe, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), in working to realize a free and open Indo-Pacific. At the same time, I intend to develop stable relations with China, Russia, and other neighboring countries.

For the near future, I will devote all of my efforts to overcoming the novel coronavirus. I intend to restore our daily lives at the earliest possible time and bring peace of mind and hope to all of you.

This summer, we will hold the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. I intend to make these Games proof that humanity has defeated the virus, as well as an opportunity to send out a message to the world of our reconstruction from the Great East Japan Earthquake. Taking all possible measures to prevent infections, we will advance our preparations under the determination to make these Games happen, bringing hope and encouragement to people all around the world.

This year, I want to cultivate the buds of reform to make them grow large, and have the citizens enjoy the fruits of that reform in a tangible way. I want to make this year one that, when we look back on 2021 in the future, we describe as the turning point for heading towards a new growth path. With that in mind, I will do my very best this year too as the Cabinet that works for the people.

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