Last Updated 9/29/2020
In order to adequately adjust to the morphing landscape, it is crucial to stay informed on the latest developments affecting businesses and the general public. With the Japan COVID-19 Report, it is our goal to help you do just that. This will be regularly updated as new changes occur.
Japanese government to allow more foreign nationals from October
Government-website to allow booking of PCR tests to be launched in October
Go To Travel’s 50% travel discount to begin October 1
Tokyo to reduce alert level from highest to second-highest, will end some countermeasures
Government scraps crowd limits at venues and events
COVID-19 in Numbers:
Based off data available on the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) website, as of 12:00pm on September 28, Japan has:
- Conducted 1,957,973 PCR Tests
- 82,131 positive cases
- 1,548 deaths
Based off data available on the Tokyo Metropolitan Government website for COVID-19, as of 8:00pm on September 28, Tokyo has:
- Conducted 496,961 PCR Tests;
- 25,335 positive cases;
- 406 deaths.
Just as the nearly eight-year Abe era comes to a close in Japan, the country appears to be seeing fewer new coronavirus infections. Now-Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide seems set to continue his predecessor’s effort to balance fighting the pandemic while minimizing damage to the economy. Meanwhile, both the public and the opposition parties continue to view the government’s response critically.
But parliamentary opposition matters little when the Diet, the main forum of debate, is not in session. Opposition lawmakers struggle for public attention and are unable to get their critiques in front of the public. However, a snap election in the near future, as some heavyweights within the LDP have suggested, would give the opposition a chance to air their grievances before the public. Prior to his resignation, most polls showed voters held low opinions of the Abe administration’s response to the pandemic. A Nikkei poll showed 74% public support for the Suga cabinet, the third-highest for any cabinet at its inauguration.
If an election is called, the opposition, led by the newly unified Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, will have an excellent opportunity to prove its mettle. It may be a challenge, however, to hold Suga responsible for the previous administration’s pandemic response. As chief cabinet secretary, Suga possessed great influence over domestic policy, but Economic Revitalization Minister Nishimura Yasutoshi was the public face of the response efforts. However, some issue cleavages are emerging. Suga said that Japan will need to raise the consumption tax beyond 10%, while CDPJ leader Edano Yukio wants to cut it.
Komeito, the LDP’s junior coalition partner, will struggle if an election is called. It will need to manage its resources for two elections in a short period of time — the Tokyo Assembly election and a general election. As a medium-sized party, it may suffer some loss of seats. Komeito leader Yamaguchi Natsuo has come out against a snap election.
Each party faces its own difficulties in any hypothetical election. That could work to the LDP’s advantage if the opposition cannot land its punches. However, a new surge in COVID-19 cases or a greater economic downturn may tilt the scales toward the opposition parties. Suga, only recently ascended to the premiership, would have a real fight on his hands in that case.
Government to allow more foreign nationals to enter Japan from October
- The Japanese government will ease entry restrictions on foreign nationals, allowing more new visa applicants to enter the country. The government will allow foreign nationals to enter the country as early as October if they have a visa allowing them to stay for 3 months or longer, regardless of their country of origin. This will apply to foreign workers and international students, but not tourists.
- Additionally, the government is planning to expand the fields subject to looser entry requirements for travellers from 16 countries, including Singapore. It will allow only 1,600 arrivals from the 16 countries and 1,000 from the rest of the world per day. The changes will allow people from these countries to engage in cultural activities, medical services and educational activities. However, the government will allow a resumption of travel only to the extent that it does not result in a rise of coronavirus infections.
- Already from September, Japan relaxed procedures for foreign residents wishing to re-enter the country. All foreign travellers are required to receive a PCR test 72 hours before departure for Japan, be tested again at the airport of arrival and undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine period, among other requirements.
Government website for PCR test reservations to be launched in October
- The government will set up a website for Japanese business travellers and athletes to book PCR tests before travelling overseas. The new website, which will be named TeCOT, will come online in October. It will enable people planning to travel overseas to know the entry requirements for each destination, and provide a system to reserve PCR tests before departure.
- The government will compel medical facilities to provide details of fees and costs for PCR tests to prevent high fees. Medical facilities will also have to issue certificates of negative results either by email or physical paper. By March, the government plans to have the certificates issued through a special app to prevent test fabrications.
- The government’s aim is to ensure that travellers can easily access PCR tests and know travelling conditions before travelling. However, this system will initially only be accessible to business travellers and athletes.
Tokyo to enter ongoing Go To Travel campaign in October
- Nishimura Yasutoshi, Minister of Economic Revitalization and the point man for the country’s coronavirus response, said that Tokyo will become eligible for the government’s Go To Travel campaign. Tokyo Prefecture will enter the tourism subsidy program on October 1.
- The announcement came a day after the metropolitan government lowered its alert status to three from four. Tokyo was initially excluded from the campaign when it began in late July because of a resurgence of COVID-19 cases in the capital and fears that the virus could spread to the rest of the country.
- Tourism Minister Akaba Kazuyoshi said that people travelling to and from Tokyo in October who have already made reservations need to cancel and rebook to be eligible for the Go To Travel discounts.
- Under the Go To Travel campaign, anyone travelling within Japan is eligible to receive a 50% discount on travel costs through a set of government coupons. Despite the pandemic, travel reservations to 32 prefectures were higher than in previous years. However, this does not account for the overseas tourists barred from entering the country.
Go To Travel’s 50% travel discount to begin October 1
- The Japan Tourism Agency said that the next phase of the government’s Go To Travel tourism campaign will begin on October 1. The program currently covers 35% of travel expenses, but new coupons will be issued to cover 15% of spending at restaurants and souvenir shops. In total the program will cover about 50% of travel costs.
- To be able to participate in the subsidy program, restaurants and shops will need to implement safety measures and meet other requirements. The coupons will be issued both in paper and digitally in denominations of ¥1,000. The Tourism Ministry has already started registering establishments to participate in its discount meal coupon program.
Tokyo reduces alert level from highest to second-highest, will end some countermeasures
- The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has lowered its alert status to level three from level four. It also loosened voluntary measures that recommended against going out or travelling from September 15. Restrictions on business operating hours for restaurants and eateries until 10 pm also ended.
- Tokyo Governor Koike Yuriko indicated that Tokyo must be ready for another surge in the future. The city’s COVID-19 task force acknowledged the effectiveness of measures discouraging travel outside of Tokyo in containing the rise in infection cases, but it remains fearful that new cases are not declining as fast as had been hoped.
Government scraps crowd limits at venues and events
- The Japanese government has scrapped a rule limiting the size of crowds at venues and events to 50% of their total capacity or a total of 5,000 people. This comes after the government’s panel of health experts gave the OK. The government said in August that it would revisit crowd limits should the number of daily infections decrease substantially. However, even under more relaxed rules event operators and spectators will be required to take government-dictated measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 and seasonal influenza. The relaxation of crowd limits started on September 19, ahead of a four-day weekend.
Tokyo governor urges city to host summer Olympics by all means
- Tokyo Governor Koike said that the city should host the previously postponed summer Olympics “by all means” in 2021 by taking effective measures to stop the spread of the new coronavirus. Koike urged her own government to prepare for next year’s summer games by implementing every possible measure out of concern for athletes’ physical condition and motivation.
- This mirrors comments by the IOC’s Vice-President John Coates and Olympic Minister Hashimoto Seiko that the games will be held at any cost, with or without crowds.
Government to request treatment of some infected at accommodation facilities
- The government is studying the legal implications of treating some infected patients at hotels and accommodation facilities instead of hospitalizing everyone, so as to avoid burdening hospitals and healthcare facilities. The categorization of COVID-19 as a Category I Infectious Disease, the most dangerous, made it possible for asymptomatic patients to be hospitalized. But with legislative revisions people can be requested to stay home or be treated at accommodation facilities, effectively reducing the burden on medical resources and hospitals.
- These changes would allow the government to order hospitalization if patients refuse to be treated at accommodation facilities. A government task force made up of health experts will set up the details.
Immigration authorities to allow foreigners with expired re-entry permits and visas to re-enter Japan
- The Immigration Services Agency (ISA) said they will allow foreign nationals with re-entry permits and visas that expired while they were abroad to reenter the country. Foreign nationals with expired permits and visas will need to seek re-entry permission through special circumstances listed as humanitarian reasons and will be granted a certificate of eligibility. Furthermore, from the beginning of September, foreign nationals can travel abroad and re-enter the country. The ISA has also declared that the period of validity of certificates of eligibility issued between October 2020 and January 2021 will be extended.
- However, they will be subject to very strict re-entry procedures, including a PCR test before departure and after landing, as well as a self-isolation period of 14 days.
- The Foreign Ministry said at a G20 conference that countries must do their best in resuming cross-border travel while containing the spread of the pandemic.
Government to adopt flexible budget limits to aid recovery
In addition to extending the deadline for budget requests, the Ministry of Finance has announced that government ministries and agencies can request funds for the upcoming fiscal year that are not subject to a cap. Funds exceeding budget allocations from last year will need to be related to the coronavirus pandemic or related economic recovery efforts.
The Cabinet has approved the use of ¥1.13 trillion ($10.6 billion) of government reserves to combat the economic downturn caused by the pandemic. A large portion of the newly allocated funds will be used for stimulus payments to small- and medium-sized businesses which have been hit especially hard by the drop in consumer spending over the past several months.
Specialist panel emphasizes hospital occupancy rates in emergency declaration discussions
- As discussions about a possible second national state of emergency continue, the government’s advisory panel proposed a new set of indices that includes hospital occupancy rates to evaluate the state of the pandemic and the need for another declaration. The panel has set out a four-stage framework with specific numerical criteria for each stage.
Government requests 70% work from home
- Minister Nishimura Yasutoshi said the government will urge companies to have 70% of their staff work from home. For those that cannot work from home, the government will request that companies impose staggered commuting times and refrain from hosting large social gatherings like parties and similar events.
Government eyes penalties for those not following shutdown requests or lockdown orders
- The Japanese government is mulling a package of legislative amendments with the aim of strengthening the central and prefectural governments’ ability to fight the pandemic. The revisions will be included in the Special Measures Law and the Quarantine and Immunization Laws.
- The new measures will likely include penalties for businesses and individuals not following business suspension requests or lockdown orders. Individuals not following requests to follow quarantine orders in the airport would also be subject to fines.
- While penalties are still under discussion, new revisions would also give the central government the power to give instructions regarding the nationwide implementation of PCR tests in health offices.
- Minister Nishimura is discussing the constitutionality of the amendments with the Cabinet Legislation Bureau. If accepted, the revisions will be submitted to the Diet during next year’s ordinary session, as no extraordinary session has been set for the fall.
Foreign Ministry increases re-entry requirements for foreign residents entering from virus-free countries
- The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has increased the requirements and entry procedures for foreign residents re-entering Japan from Peru, the Philippines, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Notably, they will need to submit negative PCR test results before departure, along with documents proving they can re-enter Japan. This documentation will be required of all non-Japanese residents coming from anywhere from September 1. Japanese nationals will be able to return without such documentation. Everyone entering Japan will need to take a PCR test upon arrival and self-quarantine for two weeks.
- The Foreign Ministry will gradually ease restrictions on the rest of foreign visitors through a three-stage process. It will first allow entry for people travelling for business purposes and researchers, followed by international students to meet private sector demand for part-time workers. The third stage will involve allowing entry to international tourists.
- The ministry will gradually allow entry to countries based on their diplomatic relations with Japan and the countries’ infection rates.
- Workers and educators who live in Japan will be among the first eligible for re-entry, with the first permissions granted to business operators based in Japan from the U.S. and Europe. Expatriates and long-term residents will have to undergo a 14-day quarantine either at home or a designated location. They will also need to report their health condition via LINE to health authorities and install a COVID-19 tracing app that will retain GPS data for 14 days.
- Eligible business travellers from Singapore and Japan will be exempted from a 14-day quarantine, if they give a detailed itinerary to immigration officers, avoid crowds and public transportation.
Japan's major airports may open coronavirus testing centers in September
- Authorities will probably start operating coronavirus testing centers in large cities and airports from September because of easing entry restrictions.
- The objective is to carry out at least 9,000 PC tests per day on travellers in Haneda, Narita and Kansai airports, as well as within the Tokyo and Osaka metropolitan areas. After improving the capabilities of quarantine stations, the government is confident that it can increase daily PCR tests to 13,000 per day.
- Authorities are already trying to reduce testing times and the time required to deliver results through the introduction of more advanced testing kits. The government is also looking at whether to test people leaving the country at airports. Anyone who tests negative at PCR centers will be issued a certificate.
Japan to include employment support measures for foreign technical trainees
- On July 14, the government rolled out employment support packages for foreign technical trainees who lost their employment as a result of the pandemic with the aim of attracting more foreign workers. The policy package, which was revised last year, was amended to include pandemic-related issues. However, the support for foreign technical trainees will only apply to the 14 industries covered by the scheme prior its expansion in April 2019.
- The government also moved forward with the creation of a certified Japanese-language teacher status and the expansion of an online residence application framework.
Immigration Services Agency resumes issuing certificates of eligibility
- Japanese immigration authorities have resumed processing visa applications in a bid to again allow foreign nationals back into the country. Visa operations will be expanded gradually, and only a limited number of visa applicants will be permitted at first. From June 26, the Immigration Services Agency (ISA) resumed issuing COEs (certificates of eligibility), a document required for all work visa applications. COE applications received between October 2019 and January 2020 will receive priority. Re-entry so far has been limited to foreign residents wishing to come back on humanitarian grounds. The Foreign Ministry and the ISA still have to decide on a timeline for the entry of all foreigners. The ISA will use the new system until May 2021.
Bank of Japan expands support to businesses hit by pandemic
- After a biweekly policy meeting on June 16, the Bank of Japan (BOJ) has expressed its intention to continue and expand its campaign supporting businesses hit by the virus. The BOJ will increase corporate support measures to ¥110 trillion ($1 trillion) from ¥75 trillion.
- The continued support by the BOJ is aimed at preventing companies from running out of cash, while keeping regional economies stable. However, there is widespread recognition at the BOJ that economic recovery will take time, meaning it will continue to provide low interest rates and equity purchases.
- The central bank also maintained its 2% inflation target. In the policy meeting, only one member of the board called for additional interest rates cuts.
Labor Ministry wants to pay unemployment benefits to workers on leave
- The Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare wants to implement the deemed unemployment system used in disaster areas after the earthquake in March 2011. That means that the government can pay employees taking leave the same amount provided by regular unemployment benefits, as long as the state of emergency lasts.
- Workers will have to submit a streamlined application to their local unemployment office to receive an instant payment. Payments will be capped at ¥15,000 per day, but amounts will vary depending on the employee’s income and how long they have paid unemployment insurance.
- This still requires government approval and a subsequent parliamentary amendment to current law. The government hopes to use this measure to help workers in financial difficulty, even if they were not formally dismissed by their employer.
Government to inject capital in troubled SMEs
- The government will establish a program to directly finance SMEs severely hit by the current economic crisis. The Regional Economy Vitalization Corporation, a public-private partnership, will distribute up to ¥1 trillion to financially troubled companies where loans would not be sufficient.
- The scheme allows for an injection of up to ¥10 billion per company. Eligible companies will be SMEs that are important to local and regional economies, have at least ¥1 billion worth of annual sales and a minimum of 50 employees. About 10% of SMEs in Japan are expected to meet those requirements. Most recipients will be in the hotel, logistics, tourism and retail industries, as well as subcontractors of large companies. Companies that were struggling before the effects of the pandemic on the economy are not eligible for funding.
- The goal is to avoid bankruptcies that would deal a severe blow to regional economies. Additional measures will be discussed if they are believed to be necessary to support local businesses.
Government to inject capital in medium- and large-sized corporations
- The central government will inject cash in medium and large-sized corporations struggling with the effects of the pandemic. These will add to the already ongoing government support through low-interest loans and subsidies. Cash injections, however, for large corporations, will remain as a safety net should their negative economic outlook continue or worsen.
- The government plans to introduce subordinated loans through the Development Bank of Japan and the Japan Finance Corporation. Purchase of stocks with no voting rights for companies whose finances have decreased rapidly, will also be considered by the government.
- These measures will be funded by the second supplemental budget. Necessary amendments will be introduced into law so as to allow the injection of public capital to help private financial institutions beyond the current deadline of March 2022.
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