Press Conference by Foreign Minister MOTEGI Toshimitsu
Thursday, March 19, 2020, 3:57 p.m. Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Additional Border Enforcement Measures
Mr. MOTEGI Toshimitsu, Minister for Foreign Affairs: I would like to speak about one matter during my opening remarks. Novel coronavirus infections are rapidly increasing now in various foreign countries including in Europe. As a measure to counter this, for example, EU countries have agreed to temporarily restrict entry into the EU from other countries outside the region.
Amidst this, in alignment with other countries dealing with the global spread of infections, as a new measure based on yesterday’s discussions by the Novel Coronavirus Response Headquarters and today’s Cabinet decision, Japan has decided to suspend the validity of single-entry and multiple-entry visa issued by Japanese embassies and consulates general in European countries including EU countries and the United Kingdom, Egypt, and Iran from 12:00 a.m. on March 21 until the last day of April. Furthermore, visa exemption measures for the subject countries will be gradually suspended.
In addition, yesterday, Japan conducted comprehensive consideration of various circumstances and has issued a Warning on Infectious Disease at Level 1: Exercise Caution for the entire world as well as an alert requesting Japanese citizens to reconsider the necessity of overseas travel or postponing it, regardless of the area.
We will continue to closely communicate with the governments of various countries toward preventing the spread of infections while providing careful explanations of our intentions to these countries.
Novel Coronavirus (Telephone Talks with Foreign Ministers of Various Countries)
NHK, YAMAMOTO: I would like to ask about telephone talks with various countries in relation to the novel coronavirus. You held telephone talks with Italy and Canada yesterday. Can you please tell us what countries you intend to hold talks with from today? Also, you mentioned visas, so what would you like to discuss during your series of talks?
Minister MOTEGI: I am scheduled to hold telephone talks this evening with the Foreign Minister of Germany and the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Coordination is also being conducted for a telephone talk with Secretary of State Pompeo of the United States as well as for a Japan-China-Republic of Korea (ROK) Foreign Ministers’ Telephone Talk.
Basically, one matter is that I will confirm that it is extremely important for various countries to cooperate toward preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus, which is an issue of global urgency. I will also confirm that there will be close cooperation during next week’s G7 Foreign Ministers’ Telephone Talk regarding issues currently faced by the world including the novel coronavirus issue, and that a firm message will be conveyed publicly regarding our stance.
Novel Coronavirus (Issuance of a Warning on Infectious Disease at Level 1 for the Entire World)
Yomiuri Shimbun, ABE: I would like to ask about the Warning on Infectious Disease. You stated that a Warning on Infectious Disease at Level 1 was issued for the entire world, but looking at the content, Japanese citizens are being requested to consider whether it is necessary to cancel or postpone their overseas travel. I believe that the content is close to a Warning at Level 2. Can you please tell us the reason and aim for making the Warning at Level 1 instead of Level 2 for the entire world?
Minister MOTEGI: According to the World Health Organization (WHO), we can see that novel coronavirus infections are spreading globally with over 150 countries, with a cumulative total of close to 180,000 infected people as of March 18. On March 11, the WHO used the term pandemic to evaluate the novel coronavirus.
Amidst this situation, there are countries that are restricting entry and exit from the country as well as taking immigration measures, regardless of whether they have infected people or not, and it is possible that these measures will be further strengthened going forward. There is also the issue of mobility restrictions. There have been cases of Japanese travelers and others being subject to mobility restrictions and it is possible there will be sudden reductions of flights and service cancellation. Furthermore, we can also see that there have been cases of people traveling overseas becoming infected during their trips.
We comprehensively considered such matters and issued a Warning on Infectious Disease at Level 1 (Exercise Caution) for the entire world. At the same time, in the sense of correctly conveying the situation to Japanese citizens, we have issued an alert requesting them to reconsider the necessity of overseas travel or postponing it.
Novel Coronavirus (Confrontation between the United States and China)
Pan Orient News, Azhari: My question is about diplomacy. China and the United States are exchanging accusations over the responsibility for spreading the coronavirus. American officials say that it was China’s responsibility, (in which they were) trying to prevent information from leaking out and causing global delay in response to the spread of the infection, while China is accusing the U.S. military of bringing the virus to Chinese land. Where does Japan stand on this confrontation?
Minister MOTEGI: There have been various statements concerning the novel coronavirus, not just those by the United States and China. Although it is clear that novel coronavirus infections started in China, research and studies on matters such as the outbreak origin and infection routes are being conducted now by various countries and international organizations. What is needed now is international cooperation. I also believe that taking international cooperative measures in various forms will lead to prevention of the global spread of the novel coronavirus. Amidst this, I think that it is important for the United States and China to advance building stable relations from the perspective of peace and stability of the region and the international community.
Kyodo News, TAKAO: In relation to the question just now, I would like to ask about terms being used for the novel coronavirus. China is protesting that key members of the U.S. Trump administration are using the terms “Chinese virus” and “Wuhan virus.” President Trump is justifying the use of these terms by saying that it is true that the virus came from China. On the other hand, there are also views that using such a term with an area name promotes discrimination and prejudice. What is your view on whether such terms are appropriate?
Minister MOTEGI: It is as I answered before. It is absolutely not good that such a matter is accentuating differences in the positions of both sides. I would like to refrain from agitating this by saying anything about what the correct term is.
Novel Coronavirus (Humanitarian Aid for Countries Subject to United Nations Sanctions)
Pan Orient News, Azhari: Countries under sanctions including Iran, North Korea and Syria might need humanitarian assistance to face the spread of infection. Although there are not much reports about North Korea and Syria, there are a lot of reports about Japan and Iran. So, how does Japan see the international response and assistance to the spread of the virus in such countries, especially Iran? There are some reports that Iran is requesting assistance including loans from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. Thank you.
Minister MOTEGI: In this age in which there is mass movement of people globally, I believe that international cooperation is extremely important and that the efforts by respective countries and regions alone are insufficient. Under this recognition, Japan has decided to contribute a total of 15 billion yen to international organizations such as the WHO and UNICEF to support Iran and its neighbor countries.
Humanitarian aid for countries subject to United Nations sanctions is up to the decision of respective international organizations that receive contributions. However, for example, the assistance is related to various United Nations sanctions resolutions and related matters. So if the assistance does not violate sanctions resolutions and related matters, then I assume it will be provided.
Novel Coronavirus (Warnings on Infectious Disease)
NHK, TAKASHIMA: In relation to warnings on infectious disease, I believe that the number of infected people is increasing in Southeast Asia including Malaysia and Singapore. Is it being considered to raise the Warning on Infectious Disease Level to Level 2 for these countries soon?
Minister MOTEGI: At least at present, it has not been raised. The level is related to not only the number of infected people, for example, but also the rate of infected people per 10,000 people as well as the extent of mobility restrictions. The decision is also made by comprehensively considering the local healthcare system and other such matters. As has been stated, the situation is changing daily and the Warnings on Infectious Disease are not permanent. We will review the Warnings when it is timely and appropriate according to the situation of each country.
Asahi Shimbun, OTA: In relation to the Warnings on Infectious Diseases, you explained the reasons for setting Level 1 for the entire world. Can you please tell us if the stronger reason was the worry that Japanese nationals might suddenly not be able to return to Japan from their overseas destination, rather than preventing the risk of them bringing the novel coronavirus back to Japan?
Minister MOTEGI: I stated several reasons earlier. I will not group them on a large scale; it is as I stated. One is that there is a possibility that countries taking measures restricting entry and exit from the country and quarantine measures, regardless of whether they have infected people or not, may strengthen those measures going forward.
If that happens, for example, it might be possible to travel to a country but be refused entry at the airport. Or it might not be possible for travelers to achieve their purpose in traveling because their schedule was only four days and a quarantine measure was imposed for a two-week quarantine.
Also, in terms of mobility restrictions, such restrictions might be imposed once a traveler arrived. Or a traveler might be able to arrive in their destination, but could become unable to go back because all returning flights were cancelled. Caution is needed in regard to such mobility restrictions. Furthermore, for example, there is a restriction on entry into Japan from Egypt. Over the past one to two weeks, among Japanese people returning to Japan from abroad, there has been a considerable number of cases of people being infected while participating in cruises on the Nile River in Egypt. We would also like people to be cautious of becoming infected while traveling. If such people return to Japan after being infected, this leads to the spread of infection. The level was raised taking these three major reasons into comprehensive consideration.