1.  COVID-19 Updates In Japan


l     For Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama, Chiba, Aichi, Gifu, Osaka, Hyogo, Kyoto and Fukuoka, the government of Japan decided on February 7 to extend the period of the state of emergency for one more month through March 7. Tochigi Prefecture’s state of emergency was not extended thanks to the sharp improvement of new infections and hospital capacity.  The number of newly infected people continues declining both nationally (much less than 2,000 infected and less than 100 dead a day respectively ), and in Tokyo (less than 500 infected a day). However, the occupancy rate of the hospitals beds exclusively serving for the corona virus patients hasn’t declined at the same pace in those ten prefectures yet, making their doctors, nurses and care workers exhausted.  

l   PM Suga announced to the public that the government approval process of the vaccines is being accelerated, and the first inoculation of the Pfizer’s vaccine by the medical community will begin soon within this month.  

l   It was revealed recently that a typical Japanese syringe is structurally different from American one, resulting in a little more residue of the vaccine within the Japanese syringe after one shot is placed. Although Pfizer claims that one vaccine bottle yields 6 doses, it declines to 5 doses if a Japanese syringe is used. The Ministry of Welfare and Labor is currently negotiating with Pfizer to define the volume of vaccine by the number of doses instead of the bottle. 

l   According to the statistics of 2020 for the Japanese households’ consumption announced by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications on February 5, an averaged monthly household consumption went down by 5.3% from 2019. It was the largest annual declination ever since the collection of comparable statistics began in 2001. Among others, the account of tour packages like cruise tours declined most (70.4%), followed by drinking at bars and izakayas (53.9%) and dining at restaurants etc. (25.4%). 


  1. Is PM Suga’s Approval Rating Bouncing Back?


According to Yomiuri’s monthly survey conducted from February 5 through 7, the Suga Cabinet’s approval rating remained unchanged at 39% from a month before, while its disapproval rating went down by 5 points to 44%. Earlier, the approval ratings were consistently declining month by month in the past several months.


34% of the respondents said that they approve the government response against the Covid-19, which is a 8 points jump from January, and 57% disapproved it, a 9 points decrease from the previous month.


91% answered that the sexism statement of Mr. Yoshiro Mori, Chairman of the Tokyo Olympic/Paralympic Organizing Committee that board of directors meetings with many female board members tend to take time to conclude, was problematic. (Mr. Mori announced today at a press conference to step down the chairman’s position, and told that he had asked Mr. Kawabata, the founder of J-League, Japan’s professional soccer league, and a very well-known figure both domestically and internationally, to succeed the position.)


As for the Olympic and Paralympic games, 36% replied that the games should be held this year as scheduled in whatever the way the safety of the athletes, essential workers, volunteers and any other organizers can be practically ensured, while 33% said they should be postponed one more time, and 28% replied they should be cancelled this time.  


  1. 2020’s Agricultural Products Exports Hit The Record


The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fishery announced on February 5 that Japan’s exports of agricultural, forestry and fishery product as well as food products in 2020 slightly increased from the previous year by 1.1% to 922.3 billion yen (US$ 8.9 billion). It is the 8th year in a row to renew the highest record. 


Lockdowns of cities and restrictions of dining outside in the world depressed the demand of such Japanese primary industry’s products at restaurants and businesses in the world last year, while the world-wide increases of the “Stay-at-home” demand boosted the exports of Japanese rice, pork, egg and so forth.   


Hong Kong imported most (206.1 billion yen), followed by China (163.9 billion yen).  

The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery aims at increasing the exports by more than 5 folds to be 3 trillion yen (US$28.8 billion) by 2030.


  1. Carbon Tax To Be Increased


On February 5, PM Suga stated that his administration would substantially increase the rate of the carbon tax to proactively respond the looming climate change threat, when asked by an opposition party member at the House of Representatives’ Budget Committee during the ordinary Diet Session.


The carbon tax system was introduced in Japan in 2012, and major industries that emit large volume of CO2 have been charged the carbon tax since then.   


To a question if he is satisfied with the present level of carbon tax revenue, which is roughly 260 billion yen (US$2.4 billion), PM Suga answered that he was not, and he thought he would have to scale it up to be in an order of magnitude higher. 


Earlier, Suga instructed Minister Kajiyama (METI) and Environment Minister Koizumi to jointly study a carbon pricing system. 


  1. Self-Driving Robotic Vehicles To Begin Delivery Services This Year


The Suga Administration solidified its policy to allow unmanned self-driving robotic delivery system to be operated on the public roads within this year, Yomiuri reported on February 6. 


The delivery vehicle is expected to drive as fast as a typical Japanese pedestrian’s walking speed like 4 to 6 km/h. The vehicle will be able to fully recognize traffic conditions that surround it, and to properly respond traffic signals and road blocks.  


Actual operators will remotely monitor each individual vehicle’s positions and movement to ensure safety around the vehicles.  


Rakuten, Japan’s largest online shopping mall, and Japan Post Co., Ltd. have been successfully demonstrating their delivery vehicles respectively.  


The Suga Administration is expected to present a bill during the current ordinary Diet session to amend the existing Public Road Traffic Law to allow self-driving delivery vehicles on the public roads, and once approved by the Diet, the government will receive and approve applications of robotic vehicle’s operation company by company.    


Please enjoy your weekend!