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Speeches and Statements by the Prime Minister

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

May 7, 2021

[Provisional Translation]

[Opening Statement]

Just now we held a meeting of the Novel Coronavirus Response Headquarters. As a result of that meeting, I have taken the decision to add Aichi and Fukuoka Prefectures to the areas covered by the declaration of a state of emergency and to extend the declaration to remain in effect until May 31. We also added Hokkaido, Gifu, and Mie Prefectures to the areas where priority measures to prevent the spread of disease are in effect and extended the term of those measures until May 31. Moreover, we decided that Miyagi Prefecture will finish implementing priority measures on May 11.

Recently, we asked the public to take short-term, intensive measures during the Golden Week holidays. We made a wide-reaching appeal, thinking that high-powered measures to curb the flow of people would be necessary during this special period of successive holidays in which families going on trips or returning to their hometowns, or friends getting together to head out for shopping, outing, or other activities, increase all at once. Through the cooperation the citizens have shown, the flow of people in Tokyo and Osaka decreased by 60 to 70 percent at night, and by 40 to 50 percent during the day, compared to early April.

Despite that, the number of new cases of infections is at a level significantly exceeding Stage 4, in both Tokyo and Osaka. Aichi and Fukuoka Prefectures, both of which are central to their local areas, are also at a level surpassing Stage 4. In Osaka, it is believed that a certain amount of time will be needed to improve the availability of hospital beds, which is under strain. Variants of the coronavirus understood to have high infectivity are also continuing to spread. For this reason, it is now necessary to extend the declaration of the state of emergency, maintain a strong sense of vigilance against the virus, and implement measures once again. That is the judgment I have reached.

I extend my heartfelt thanks to all the citizens who have cooperated by refraining from heading out and so on, to all the business operators who have responded to requests for the temporary suspension of operations, and to all those making all-out efforts at medical care and nursing care facilities. Because of this extension, we will continue to place a burden on all of you, and for that I apologize deeply.

As novel coronavirus infections spread during this past year, people in a very large number of types of industry have been impacted. The impacts have been particularly pronounced in such sectors as dining and drinking businesses, tourism, shopping complexes, events and theater, and sports. I once again express my gratitude to the people in these sectors for having promoted effective infection countermeasures through hard work and ingenuity, despite this backdrop.

Now that we have gotten past the great hump of the Golden Week string of holidays, going forward we will comprehensively implement measures expected to be highly effective corresponding to this regular period.

It has been pointed out for some time by experts that reducing the infection risk accompanying dining and drinking alcohol is extremely effective. In addition to continuing to suspend the serving of alcohol and the offering of karaoke services at dining and drinking establishments, we will newly add restrictions to our measures on customers bringing in their own alcohol. We ask that citizens take sufficient care so that the drinking of alcohol outside of dining and drinking facilities does not lead to infections.

It will continue to be essential to curb the flow of people at night. We will ask department stores and other large-scale facilities to shorten their operating hours to 8 PM and request sports, music, and other events to limit their hours to 9 PM.

Infections are also increasing at workplaces. We will work to thoroughly popularize teleworking to a degree not seen before, aiming to decrease the number of people present at their workplaces by 70 percent.

In the areas where priority measures to prevent the spread of disease are in effect, we will hold down a spread in infections through intensive measures that include the shortening of operating hours and patrols of dining and drinking establishments as well as testing at elderly care facilities.

Nationwide, there has been an ongoing rapid increase in the number of patients with severe symptoms and also those succumbing to the virus. In Tokyo and Osaka, among patients with severe symptoms, the proportion in a younger group from their twenties to their fifties is rising. It is crucial that we contain infections in the younger group to avoid a ripple effect to the elderly, who are at high risk. I ask once again that each of us act with a high sense of awareness, thoroughly implementing the basic precautionary measures of wearing masks, washing our hands, and avoiding the three Cs [of closed spaces, crowded spaces, and close-contact settings].

What will serve as the decisive factor in our protracted countermeasures is the vaccines. Since last year, although countries around the world have taken forceful measures that include so-called lockdowns, progress in administering vaccines has brought about considerable reductions in the number of infections. As a result, some countries have succeeded in resuming the day-to-day activities that we once had. In the UK, where roughly half of the citizens have had at least one dose of the vaccine, the number of new cases of infections, which at one time topped 60,000 a day, has declined to roughly 2,000 per day.

Will we be able to restore daily lives in which we feel at ease? It is no exaggeration to say that it will be determined by how many people we are able to vaccinate.  I myself will stand at the fore and achieve an acceleration in our vaccinations.

From next week, full-scale administration of the vaccines will get underway by local governments all around the nation. From the 24th, we will also begin giving inoculations at large-scale vaccination centers in Tokyo and Osaka. After that, aiming to administer one million doses per day, the Government will support local governments by utilizing all possible means to ensure they are able to finish giving the second dose of the vaccine to all elderly persons desiring it, with the end of July in mind.

What is absolutely critical in bringing that about will be a dependable vaccine supply and the reliable securing of staff. We have already indicated to municipalities nationwide the amount of supply we have until the end of next month, and by the beginning of next month we will deliver some 40 million doses. As for securing doctors, nurses, and the like, here too we will be steadfast in our responses, mindful of the circumstances of individual municipalities.

The other day I met with President Nakagawa of the Japan Medical Association and President Fukui of the Japanese Nursing Association. I directly requested their cooperation and made the decision to provide assistance for the expansion of the system for holiday and nighttime vaccinations. In addition, we will press forward with having doctors and nurses employed at medical institutions assist with vaccinations as a side job, and also with obtaining cooperation from dentists.

As a result of the consultations I had with the CEO of Pfizer the other day during my visit to the United States, Japan will newly receive an additional 50 million vaccine doses by the end of September. Furthermore, as next year’s supply, we are currently in discussions with Moderna and Novavax, premised on receiving a supply of 200 million doses in total. With that as the backdrop, within roughly next month, we also want to begin broadly inoculating the general public, including people with underlying health conditions, starting from those municipalities that have prospects for finishing vaccinations of the elderly. That is our intention going forward.

Also, during the consultations I had with Pfizer, there was an offer to provide vaccines free of charge to the various national teams participating in the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. The result of discussions with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is that inoculations will in fact be provided to athletes of the participating countries, and I believe this will contribute materially to holding safe and secure Games.

I have also heard that in people’s local areas some inconveniences have arisen in making vaccine reservations and other matters. The Government will provide necessary assistance so that the workings of the local governments proceed smoothly.

Regarding variants of the coronavirus, which are regarded as the cause of the rapid spread of infections, we will reinforce our domestic surveillance structure and maintain constant vigilance against new variants. In India, cases of new infections are increasing rapidly and a new variant has also been confirmed. For the near future, we are requesting persons entering Japan from India, Pakistan, and Nepal to undergo screening three times and stay at designated hotels for six days after entering Japan, thereby reinforcing our border control measures.

As infections continue, we will reliably continue to provide assistance to business operators and individuals suffering serious impacts. We will provide support to those in need of it, through liquidity support; labor cost support through Employment Adjustment Subsidies; payments to dining and drinking establishments in exchange for cooperating with various requests, in proportion to the size of the business; and support for living expenses through the Emergency Small-Amount Fund and other subsidies. As for large-scale facilities and others, we will support them through payments in exchange for their cooperating with our requests, commensurate with the size of the business. The battle with the virus remains a case of one step forward and one step back.

I also believe that there must be many people discouraged at the extension of the declaration of the state of emergency. But we will absolutely overcome this situation in the near future. In order for the citizens to recapture the days we feel at ease, we will accelerate the administration of the vaccines and, in the meantime, halt the spread of infections, no matter what. I myself will take the lead in undertaking these two operations. We will concentrate the power of not only the Government but also all others concerned, notably healthcare and nursing care professionals and local governments, and make every possible effort to restore peace of mind at the earliest possible time. I make a sincere request for the understanding and cooperation of the people.

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