Press Conference by Foreign Press Secretary Masato Otaka
Wednesday, February 12, 2020, 4:30 p.m. Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Mr. OHTAKA Masato, Press Secretary: I would just like to discuss one matter regarding the novel coronavirus in my opening remarks. This was already announced a few hours ago but I will discuss it here as well. Transport restrictions and restrictions on going outside are currently in effect throughout China, and airline companies from various countries including Japan have been successively announcing suspension and reductions of flights to China. It is expected that this will majorly affect the mobility of Japanese residents in China and overseas travelers there.
Zhejiang Province has the second highest rate of infected persons on a per 10,000 person basis, following Hubei Province. Measures are being taken that include partial restrictions on mobility in major cities in the province, including Wenzhou, Hangzhou, and Ningbo. There is a possibility that even more severe restrictive measures including on people’s mobility could be taken in these areas going forward. There are also concerns that it will take time to contain the spread of infections compared to other areas.
Today, February 12, Japan has placed a restriction on entry into the country for non-Japanese people with a history of stay in Zhejiang Province within the past 14 days who apply for landing permission in Japan.
Based on this situation, from the perspective of ensuring the safety of Japanese residents and overseas travelers in the affected areas, we issued spot information on novel coronavirus infection that requests these people to urgently consider temporarily returning to Japan or postponing their trip to China.
We will continue to cooperate with the local governments and related organizations, conduct information-gathering, and issue timely alerts to Japanese residents and overseas travelers in the affected areas.
Novel Coronavirus (Warning on Infectious Diseases Level for Zhejiang Province)
Yomiuri Shimbun, GOTO: In addition to Hubei Province, the restriction on entry into Japan has expanded to include Zhejiang Province as well. Due to this, do you plan to raise the Warning on Infectious Diseases for Zhejiang Province to “Level 3” as it is for Hubei Province?
Press Secretary OHTAKA: Decisions to issue Warnings on Infectious Diseases concerning the spread of the novel coronavirus in China are made with comprehensive consideration of factors including the spread of infection, restrictions on mobility, the medical care system, the number of Japanese residents and travelers, and the response by major countries and regions. In addition to the fact that Zhejiang Province has the highest rate of infections on a per 10,000 person basis following Hubei Province, we are also monitoring the situation in major cities in the province such as Wenzhou and Hangzhou where measures are being taken such as restrictions on mobility. As I stated earlier, the Government of Japan is requesting that Japanese residents and overseas travelers in the affected areas urgently consider ensuring their own safety, including quickly temporarily returning to Japan or postponing their trips to China. The Government will continue to make all efforts for the response to ensure the safety of Japanese residents and overseas travelers in the affected areas.
Novel Coronavirus (Provision of Information from China)
NHK, WATANABE: I believe there have been various discussions in the Diet. It is possible that the infections will continue to spread further going forward and it may become necessary to stop all entry into Japan from China or raise the level of the Warning on Infectious Diseases and call for evacuation of all Japanese people and others staying in China. Would the Government consider this? For example, depending on the situation in another country, would Japan consider being the first to take such actions? Various rumors are emerging on the internet. What exactly is the origin of the novel coronavirus? Some have said it originated from a market. Through diplomatic channels, have the Chinese authorities actually identified it and conveyed this to Japan? Interest is also rising about Japan from various counties as well as the WHO due to the cruise ship that remains in quarantine and unable to dock in Japan. Has Japan received an acceptable and convincing explanation from the Chinese authorities regarding the source of the novel coronavirus, which is the subject of various rumors that are swirling, including some that suggest that the virus was manmade?
Press Secretary OHTAKA: I believe that you are mainly asking two questions. The first is about the response going forward. I do not have any intention of speculating about what is being considered at present and what will not be done. As I stated earlier, and as I have stated repeatedly up until now, preventing the spread of infections is a matter of maximum priority for the Government of Japan system while we constantly gather information on the situations in China and various countries. Of course, constant review of this system must be conducted, and various reviews as well as additional actions will be conducted as necessary. I believe that based on this policy, the Government of Japan has been firmly taking the measures which should be done during the several weeks until now.
In regard to the origin of the novel coronavirus, of course the Government of Japan has been working to understand the various circumstances while exerting all efforts for information-gathering and closely sharing information with related international organizations including the WHO. As we take various measures, the actual origin of the novel coronavirus is of course one of the major interest of not only Japan but various other countries as well, and various forms of information gathering are being conducted.
NHK, WATANABE: I would like to ask an additional question. In that case, do you believe that the Government of China is appropriately disclosing information by providing a convincing explanation? What about their public explanation regarding the origin of the novel coronavirus? Even one of the quarantine inspectors for the cruise ship has been infected. It has even spread to a person who was being very careful. Due to this, I believe that the public perception may change. What is your evaluation of whether China has been providing an accurate explanation to the world, including its attitude?
Press Secretary OHTAKA: Japan has been closely cooperating with China, and I believe that we have had full mutual understanding as necessary until now. Amidst this, although I cannot speak about the details, of course China has been providing information about matters in which Japan is interested. In a sense, this is an issue for which we must concentrate expertise from around the world. From that perspective, Japan is working on this with the intention of playing as wide a role as possible.
Novel Coronavirus (Issuance of Spot Information)
Kyodo News, W ATARAI: Spot information was issued today that urges people to consider returning to Japan using the word “urgent.” Going forward, will the response be to issue spot information using stronger wording?
Press Secretary OHTAKA: Spot information conveys the situation at the time as accurately as possible to citizens, and is devised with consideration of wording each and every time. The spot information that was just issued conveys what we would like Japanese nationals to consider based on our recognition of the current situation. Although I have absolutely no intention of speculating at the present stage about what could happen depending on the situation going forward, please think of the spot information as I just described.
Novel Coronavirus (Timing of the Fifth Chartered Flight)
Kyodo News, WATARAI: What is the status of considerations regarding the timing of the fifth chartered flight? Please tell us what is being considered now regarding when the fifth flight will be.
Press Secretary OHTAKA: As Minister Motegi announced yesterday, in regard to the repatriation of Japanese nationals living in Hubei Province who wish to return to Japan, various methods are being pursued including dispatching chartered planes, and we have been repeatedly stating that there is no change to the Government of Japan’s policy of advancing coordination on all aspects to enable repatriation of all Japanese nationals who wish to return to Japan. Coordination is currently being conducted toward dispatching the fifth flight. Please understand that the situation is still ongoing.
Novel Coronavirus (Provision of Information to the Rest of the World)
Yomiuri Shimbun, GOTO: In regard to provision of information to the rest of the world, is MOFA providing explanations to foreign countries such as that the number of infected people aboard the cruise ship is not being included in the total number of infected people within Japan, that the infections aboard the cruise ship emerged before the quarantine by Japan, and that Japan is ensuring safety by firmly taking measures concerning entry points to the country?
Press Secretary OHTAKA: What you just stated is of course the reality of what is occurring in Japan. In addition to firmly informing everyone in Japan about the current situation, I believe that the Government must work so that people overseas are also accurately informed of what is happening here.
In relation to this, the issue aboard the cruise ship has occurred. While making communication within the Government, we are exerting efforts including holding a briefing for foreign press and ensuring that foreign media staff can acquire information from key ministries and agencies in detail as quickly as possible.
Yomiuri Shimbun, GOTO: How are you specifically providing information? Besides explanations for the foreign press, for example, are you also providing explanations to various countries through the diplomatic missions?
Press Secretary OHTAKA: What is happening in Japan is being widely and quickly shared with diplomatic missions. When it is considered necessary to provide explanations on the situation in Japan, we are able to provide explanations about Japan based on the latest information. In that sense, that is part of provision of information.
Novel Coronavirus (Warning on Infectious Diseases and Spot Information)
Asahi Shimbun, NARAZAKI: In relation to what was stated before, how are Warnings on Infectious Diseases and Spot Information used differently and how are they related?
Press Secretary OHTAKA: Spot information is issued to provide a slightly more detailed explanation of the situation at the time. The Warning on Infectious Diseases ranges from level 1 to 4. Overall, please think of them as comprehensive indicators of actions that MOFA recommends Japanese nationals taking. In that sense, both Warnings on Infectious Diseases and Spot Information are closely related, and of course there is no inconsistency between the two. In such situations when the circumstances are developing daily, please understand that spot information, which provides information that changes daily, becomes even more important. In any event, both Warnings on Infectious Diseases and Spot Information are important.