Abe Shinzō

Opening Statement to the Press on COVID-19 Countermeasures

delivered 29 February 2020



  Prime Minister Abe: [as translated (see note page bottom]: The outbreak of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is spreading across the world. Following the outbreak in China, the number of infections is soaring in countries including the Republic of Korea and Italy. In Japan, while the outbreak has not been spreading to that extent, new cases of infections are being confirmed every day.

At this stage, it is possible to control the speed at which the outbreak spreads. That is the view expressed by experts this week. To that end, we will be at a critical moment over the coming one to two weeks regarding whether the outbreak spreads rapidly or is controlled. Based on such a view from the experts, I have determined that we must implement all possible measures over the coming two weeks to prevent the outbreak spreading further.

Preventing group infection is of extreme importance. In order to avoid the risk of large-scale infections, I call for responses such as canceling, postponing, or downsizing national-scale sports or cultural events where many people gather. There are cases of the infection spreading at fitness centers or buffet-style receptions. Please refrain from activities at places with poor ventilation or a
high concentration of people as well as venues or formats in which an unspecified number of people are likely to come into contact with each other. We also request business operators to take sufficient measures to prevent infections.

We have already requested elementary schools, junior high schools and senior high schools as well as schools for special needs education to close temporarily from next Monday, until spring break. March is an important period for children as the end of school year, before they graduate or go on to the next stage of education. It is truly heartbreaking to put in place measures to close schools during this period when students make great memories with friends they spent the school year with. We ask schools to hold graduation ceremonies while implementing measures to prevent infection, taking all possible precautions such as limiting the number of participants to the minimum necessary.

The closure of schools would impose a burden upon parents. In particular, for families with small children, it will be a very significant burden. Nevertheless, prioritizing the health and safety of children above all, we must mitigate the risk of infection arising from large numbers of children, teachers, and staff staying together for long hours every day and spending time together in the same space. I ask for your understanding on this.

We must not allow to occur at school under any circumstances such situations as group infections spreading to children. With such determination, local authorities and everyone working in educational settings for exerting every effort to respond to this sudden request, and we are grateful for their dedication.

We ask private companies to take into consideration the situation of employees with children. In particular, the closure of schools will be a very significant burden for micro-, small- and medium-sized business operators, who already routinely face a shortage of workers, as well as medical professionals and nursing and childcare workers.

We will do everything possible to minimize that burden by putting into place, to the greatest possible extent, measures to provide care for small children. The government will do everything possible to support local government efforts including making the same arrangements at after-school care programs as during spring break. We also intend to establish a new grant scheme to squarely address the reduction in income resulting from parents taking leaves of absence from work, for both permanent and non-permanent workers.

As the one who made that decision, taking full responsibility, I am determined to thoroughly address the various issues that arise. We will also swiftly compile within roughly the next 10 days a second emergency policy package that utilizes this fiscal year’s contingency funds, which amount to more than 270 billion yen.

As the infections by the novel coronavirus spread worldwide, some concerns are emerging over the decrease in overseas tourists as well as on-going operation of production lines. As an exceptional measure, we intend to extend support dating back to January through the Employment Adjustment Subsidies, regardless of industry.

We will also create a mechanism to listen directly to the voices of micro-, small- and medium-sized business operators on the challenges they face and thoroughly address impacts on local economies such as by providing strong liquidity support.

Furthermore, taking this opportunity, from the perspective of preventing outbreaks, we will advance the use of remote work in every aspect of society, making full use of teleworking and other forms of IT, and all at once push forward with changes that go ahead of the times.

We will closely monitor the trends in the world economy, including the significant drop in stock prices across the board in major stock markets around the world. We will implement necessary and sufficient economic and fiscal policies in accordance with their impact.

In Japan, five patients have contracted and died from the novel coronavirus thus far. Six passengers who had been on the Diamond Princess have also died. I pray sincerely for the repose of their souls and extend my condolences to their families.

I understand that many people in Japan feel unease about this virus in various ways. Meanwhile, among those who have tested positive in Japan, including cruise ship passengers, more than 140 have already recovered and been discharged from hospitals. The assessment of experts is that even if people become infected with this virus, most cases will have mild symptoms and many patients will recover.

Furthermore, we are seeing reports that the duration of hospitalization is longer than for seasonal influenza. In particular, it is considered that elderly people and those with underlying diseases have a high risk of their symptoms becoming severe. Therefore, the government intends to put in place a solid screening structure and medical treatment structure so as to minimize the number of severely ill patients, while continuing to exert every effort to prevent the outbreak from spreading.

With respect to polymerase chain reaction (PCR) screening, in addition to taking response measures at the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, since last month we have been proactively supplying reagents and other test kits to local public health institutes, private-sector screening institutions, and universities across Japan and working to build their capacity in this area. As
a result, nationwide we have the ability to conduct more than 4,000 screenings daily. We continue to provide reagents to private-sector screening institutions and universities in areas outside the major cities and are working to enhance their screening capacity further.

Regarding PCR screening, we are receiving many comments that health centers are refusing to conduct screening despite requests. While health centers are under the jurisdiction of prefectural governments or cities designated by government ordinance, the government has repeatedly requested that screening be conducted when a doctor suspects a case of infection. In addition, in order to prevent situations where patients cannot undergo screening due to limited screening capacity locally, the government will mediate among regions so that necessary screening can be conducted in each area without fail.

Within next week, we will have PCR screening covered by health care insurance. This will make it possible to request screening directly from private-sector screening institutions without going through health centers. The screening capacity of private-sector screening institutions will be also strengthened significantly.

In addition, we are working to develop new simple test equipment that will make it possible to reduce the time needed to detect the virus, currently two to three hours, to around fifteen minutes. Over the past month, we have been working to develop the reagent and improve its accuracy, and we intend to start using this kit within March.

We will utilize all such available measures and ensure sufficient screening capacity so that every patient can undergo PCR screening when a doctor nearby, such as a primary care doctor, deems it necessary.

From the standpoint of preventing symptoms from becoming severe, it is also necessary to secure hospital beds for treatment. While there are more than 2,000 beds designated for infectious diseases nationwide, we intend to ensure a capacity of over 5,000 beds, fully utilizing beds in Designated Medical Institutions for Infectious Diseases in an emergency situation. By providing support to hospitals so that they maintain all beds available at this moment, we will develop a medical treatment structure fully prepared for cases such that the number of patients increases significantly.

At this moment, there is no medication with confirmed effectiveness against this virus, as we have with influenza. That is the major source of global concerns. Therefore, at this moment, three types of medication, including Avigan, have been administered to patients in Japan, as observational studies to identify their respective effectiveness against the novel coronavirus. Basic studies using the novel coronavirus have already confirmed a certain degree of effectiveness for each of the three medications. We intend to dose patients with their consent and develop a cure as early as possible.

In facing a crisis, it is important to always assume the worst and prepare in advance. In Hokkaido, Governor Suzuki has declared a state of emergency and called upon the residents to refrain from going outside over the weekend. The Government will introduce the special application of the Employment Adjustment Subsidies and thoroughly support those who need to take a leave, including non-permanent workers. We will spare no effort and extend all possible cooperation including provision of necessary supplies.

We need to specify our response measures in cases of sudden surges in outbreaks in certain areas. This is the time for action. The government has already announced its basic policy, and we intend to swiftly prepare legislative measures aimed at minimizing the impacts on the daily lives of the public, while anticipating all possibilities. I intend to continue to implement necessary measures
without hesitation, prioritizing protection of the health and safety of the public above all.

There are still many unknowns about this virus. Fighting an enemy hard to see and hard to understand is not easy. Speaking frankly, we cannot win this battle through the capacity of the government alone. As we work towards bringing this situation to its ultimate conclusion, it is indispensable to have the understanding and cooperation of each and every member of the public, including in medical institutions, households, private companies, and local governments.

Decisions that directly impact people’s lives will be met with various opinions and criticisms. It is a matter of course to listen sincerely to such voices as the prime minister.

At the same time, as the prime minister, I will safeguard the lives of the people, along with their daily lives. To carry out that great responsibility, I am determined to continue to stand at the fore making decisions on what we must do.

We should not prejudice what lies ahead on our way to ultimately settling this situation. A hard and trying battle will continue. We must also prepare for that and this will be a significant imposition upon the people. I once again ask most sincerely for cooperation from each and every one of you. However, I am confident that we can surely overcome this challenge.

Last but not least, to the medical professionals and others who have been devoting themselves since last month to fighting this virus on the frontlines, I express my sincere respect for your efforts, including the responses taken onsite at the Diamond Princess. I ask for your continued support in this fight.

I will end my remarks here.

Original English Text Source: Official Website of the Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet at http://japan.kantei.go.jp/98_abe/statement/202002/_00002.html

Page Updated: 7/12/22

U.S. Copyright Status: Text = Used in compliance with the terms found here. Image of Flag of Japan = Public domain.

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