Press Conference by Foreign Minister MOTEGI Toshimitsu
Tuesday, March 31, 2020, 10:46 a.m. Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Raising of Warning on Infectious Disease Levels
Mr. MOTEGI Toshimitsu, Minister for Foreign Affairs: I would firstly like to make an announcement about the raising of Warning on Infectious Disease Levels. As the number of people infected with the novel coronavirus as well as the number of deaths have sharply increased around the world, the World Health Organization (WHO) used the term pandemic to evaluate the spread of infections on March 11. Infections have continued to spread globally since then. As of today, a total of over 760,000 people are infected in 176 countries and regions.
In addition, the speed of the spread of infections is accelerating. Although it took over 60 days for the number of infected people to reach 100,000 people around the world at first, the speed has accelerated, and it took 11 days to reach 200,000 people and four days to reach 300,000 people. Recently, the spread has accelerated by 100,000 people on each of the past two days. Also, the number of deaths has increased on a scale of several hundred over consecutive days in some countries, and there have been cases in which medical care systems have not been able to sufficiently catch up to care for the number of seriously ill people.
In Japan in a little over the past 10 days, over 10 infected people have been confirmed over consecutive days to have entered Japan after probably being infected overseas. The number of cases of confirmed infection overseas accounted for one in four infected people during late March.
In addition, Japanese nationals who are overseas are subject to movement restrictions due to measures such as border closures and prohibitions on outings being implemented in various parts of the world. There are also cases of people being affected by sudden reductions or suspension of flights. We are strongly concerned about this situation from the perspective of ensuring the safety of Japanese nationals, including the risk of Japanese nationals being infected overseas.
We have comprehensively considered the situation that I just described. To take initiative, we have decided to implement two measures today that I will now explain.
The first is that taking into consideration matters such as the number of infected people per 10,000 people and cases of infection being brought into the country from overseas, we have newly raised the Warning on Infectious Disease to Level 3: Avoid All Travel for the 49 countries and regions shown in red in the material that was distributed. As a result, there is now a total of 73 countries and regions that are at Level 3, including the countries and regions that were already at that level up until now. 73 countries are at Level 3 out of the 196 countries in the world, which I believe is just over one third.
The second measure is that we will raise the Warning on Infectious Disease to Level 2: Avoid Non-essential Travel for the rest of the world, besides the 73 countries and regions that are now at Level 3.
Due to the raising of Warning on Infectious Disease Levels, going forward we will implement border enforcement measures, including increasing the number of regions that are subject to denial of entry into Japan, strengthening quarantines, and visa restrictions, in coordination with related ministries and agencies including the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, and through discussions at the National Security Council and the Novel Coronavirus Response Headquarters.
We will focus on the following four points based on the spread of novel coronavirus infections going forward. The first is that we will constantly review the Warnings on Infectious Disease Levels and Overseas Travel Safety Information. The second is that we will implement border enforcement measures in cooperation with related ministries and agencies. The third is that in order to ensure the safety of Japanese nationals, we will provide necessary information on the MOFA website and though consular emails. The fourth is that we will exert all efforts to ensure the safety of Japanese nationals and provide necessary support, including by providing as much support as possible through diplomatic missions to Japanese residents and travelers in foreign countries.
We have raised the Warning on Infectious Disease Levels based on the rapid spread and increasing severity of novel coronavirus infections. I would like to once again request Japanese people to stop traveling overseas, unless there are exceptional circumstances.
Novel Coronavirus (Raising of Warning on Infectious Disease Levels)
NHK, YAMAMOTO: I have two questions. For my first question, I would like to confirm just to be sure a point from the explanation in your opening remarks. Is it correct to understand that the areas that have just been raised to Level 3 will be added to the list of areas subject to denial of entry into Japan?
Minister MOTEGI: That will be decided going forward through consultations with the ministries and agencies concerned, as well as discussions within the National Security Council and the Novel Coronavirus Response, as I stated earlier. We have also conducted advance consultations with the ministries and agencies concerned through now. Also, considering the cases thus far, I believe the situation will progress as I stated earlier.
NHK, YAMAMOTO: I would like to ask one more question. The Warning on Infectious Disease Level has been raised to Level 2 for the entire world. I believe that MOFA has taken measures to suspend the validity of visas from areas at Level 2 thus far, so is it correct to understand that basically these measures will be expanded to suspend visa validity for the entire world?
Minister MOTEGI: We will advance measures related to single and multiple-entry visas as well as measures concerning visa exemptions in the same way we have done thus far.
TV Asahi, OISHI: To confirm, is it correct to understand that the Level increases you just announced have already been implemented?
Minister MOTEGI: The Levels have been raised.
Novel Coronavirus (Immigration Restrictions on Entry Into Japan
Pan Orient News, Azhari: I would like to follow up on the restrictions on entering Japan. There are reports that the citizens from the United States, China and Republic of Korea are not allowed to come to Japan for the time being. So, does that include the military staff for their American bases and also diplomats?
Minister MOTEGI: Excuse me. I will confirm that.
People related to the U.S. military will be subject to these border enforcement measures. Since March 22, the U.S. State Department has prohibited travel to some countries, including Japan, for 60 days by people related to the U.S. military, including soldiers, civilians employed by the military, and their families. We received an explanation from the United States that unless exceptional permission is granted, people related to the military will not enter Japan from overseas.
Novel Coronavirus (Support from China for Japan)
Shanghai East Television, Song: In relation to the novel coronavirus, I would like to ask about Japan-China relations. Many Chinese people were touched that Japan conveyed to China that it would provide assistance to Wuhan. Now, during this difficult time for Japan, China is delivering supplies such as masks to Japan. Can you please give us a message about the network being built that provides help which transcends the national borders between Japan and China?
Minister MOTEGI: Novel coronavirus infections have now spread to 176 countries and regions around the world. The speed of the spread is also accelerating. Amidst this, I believe that in conjunction with the respective initiatives of countries, international cooperation and collaboration in various forms have become extremely important.
As you stated, when the outbreak first occurred in Wuhan and there were many infected people in China, Japan did not have such a spread of infections, and provided supplies such as masks and protective clothing to China, where there was a shortage of these supplies. Japanese people are also being provided with much support, such as masks, from Chinese companies and individuals. I am aware of these efforts.
As our two countries mutually support each other, I am aware that Japan’s support is viewed favorably in China, as you stated. Additionally, I believe that such positive exchanges between our two countries have provided major encouragement for our shared battle against the novel coronavirus, an issue that we have in common. I would like such mutual cooperation to not only be conducted between Japan and China, but also to spread around the world.
Novel Coronavirus (Effects on the Northern Territories Issue)
Asahi Shimbun, TAKESHITA: I would like to ask about Japan-Russia relations. Amidst the spread of the novel coronavirus, there are reports that coordination is being conducted to postpone the May implementation of visa-free exchanges in the Northern Territories between Japan and Russia. Can you please tell us if that is true, and about the status of coordination toward implementing visa-free exchanges this year?
Minister MOTEGI: It is true that during discussions between the implementing organizations about projects this year such as the exchange on the Four Northern Islands, which are currently being coordinated, the Four Northern Islands side has expressed concerns related to the novel coronavirus. Although the Government of Japan would like to smoothly implement the projects concerned this year, the former islanders are elderly. We also have to consider various matters, such as what would happen if we used a boat. We will make efforts that take into full consideration the perspective of protecting the health and safety of the participants.
Case of the Collision Between the Shimakaze Destroyer of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) and a Chinese Fishing Boat
Yomiuri Shimbun, ABE: Last night, the Shimakaze destroyer of the JMSDF collided with a Chinese fishing boat in international waters in the East China Sea. Can you please tell us about the response by MOFA, including whether a protest was issued to the Government of China?
Minister MOTEGI: To explain the facts of the matter, yesterday at around 10:28 a.m., the Shimakaze destroyer, which was conducting warning and surveillance activities, collided with a Chinese fishing boat in international waters in the East China Sea, about 650 kilometers from Yakushima Island. We received a report soon after the collision. The details, such as the damage, are currently being confirmed, but both boats have not sunk. The personnel aboard the Shimakaze were not harmed, and although the ship’s hull was partially damaged, it is my understanding that this will not affect its operation. In regard to the Chinese fishing boat, I have heard that although there were no casualties or missing persons, one member out of the 13 crew members received a back injury.
Due to this incident, we swiftly contacted China through diplomatic channels, and confirmed that we will continue conducting close communication going forward.
Novel Coronavirus (Missile Launches by North Korea, Etc.)
Pan Orient News, Azhari: There were some missiles launched two days ago. One toward the Sea of Japan by North Korea, and the other toward Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, reportedly by some elements in Yemen. This comes at a time when the world is united to fight the coronavirus and Japan is trying to lead efforts to find the solution and medicine. What is your comment on missile launching at this time of global crisis?
Minister MOTEGI: At the beginning of this week, North Korea conducted a ballistic missile launch, which was its fourth launch of missiles this month. These launches are in violation of the related United Nations Security Council Resolutions, and Japan resolutely condemns them. We have strong concerns about this issue, as it seriously affects not only Japan but also regional peace and security.
During this week’s G7 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, we agreed that we cannot overlook North Korea’s ballistic missile launches, regardless of the type of ballistic missile; that the international community and the G7 will firmly cooperate, and support the initiatives of the United States; and that we will realize complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement (CVID) of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles through complete implementation of the related United Nations Security Council Resolutions. We will undertake firm efforts for this.
In regard to the Middle East and the missile launch by the Houthis, Japan strongly condemns that cross-border missile strikes are being continuously conducted against Saudi Arabia, including the missile strike that you mentioned. In addition, we are concerned about the continuing military actions between the legitimate government and rebel forces in Yemen, and would like to strongly request that all the people concerned respond to the call for a ceasefire by UN Secretary-General Guterres.
What the world should be fighting against now is the threat posed by the novel coronavirus. Although various different situations may have been occurring in your region, your country could begin to have many infected people, so is this really the time to launch missiles? I believe it is most important that the entire world agrees to conduct efforts against the novel coronavirus.
Novel Coronavirus (Lawsuits, Etc. Against China in the United States)
Nikkei Shimbun, KATO: I would like to return to the subject of the novel coronavirus. Some people in the United States and other countries are alleging that China’s initial response concerning the spread of the novel coronavirus neglected the duty to provide information and reports to the WHO, as prescribed in international health regulations, and that this violated international law. What are your thoughts on this point? Also, what are your views regarding the emergence of movements of companies and individuals in the United States actually pursuing lawsuits against the Government of China?
Minister MOTEGI: From the perspective of preventing the international spread of the novel coronavirus, I believe it is extremely important to swiftly provide information in a transparent manner, and this applies to China as well. I think it is a problem if information is not flowing in an appropriate or timely manner. Amidst this, I would like to wait for the results of verification by various organizations such as the WHO, including about the matter you mentioned.