Press Conference by Foreign Minister MOTEGI Toshimitsu
Tuesday, April 7, 2020, 11:15 a.m. Ministry of Foreign Affairs
(1) Emergency Grant Aid to Provide Avigan to Countries Where There Are People Infected With the Novel Coronavirus
Mr. MOTEGI Toshimitsu, Minister for Foreign Affairs: Avigan is attracting interest from many countries as a medication that prevents viral replication. I have also directly received such requests during telephone talks and other occasions. Due to requests received from various countries, Japan will internationally expand clinical research on Avigan related to the novel coronavirus while cooperating with countries that would like to do so.
From this perspective, on April 7, the Government of Japan decided to provide a total of $1 million in emergency grant aid in order to implement support for countries where there are people infected with the novel coronavirus.
Specifically, through the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS), from a humanitarian perspective, Japan will expand clinical research by providing Avigan to countries that wish to receive it. At present, coordination has already been completed to provide Avigan free of charge within a certain limit to 20 countries, and coordination is currently being advanced with about 30 more countries.
Medication development is extremely important to bring the novel coronavirus situation under control. Japan will firmly advance strengthening private and public sector initiatives as well as international cooperation on medication development.
(2) MOFA’s Structure and Efforts in the Case of the Declaration of a State of Emergency
Minister MOTEGI: The second matter I would like to explain is “MOFA’s structure and efforts in the case of the declaration of a state of emergency.” This matter relates to what would happen in the future. Amidst the current situation of the novel coronavirus in Japan, particularly Tokyo, MOFA is taking various infection control measures in order to be able to fully fulfill its duties, including protecting Japanese nationals.
Above all, teleworking is being actively adopted. At present, nearly all of the divisions – 96% of them – have their personnel divided into multiple teams that alternate between working at home and commuting to MOFA. This decreases chances for contact among personnel of the respective divisions and also prevents entire divisions from losing their functionality if infections occur.
Going forward, after a state of emergency is declared, firstly the total number of hours spent working in person at MOFA will be decreased to under half the number before the spread of the novel coronavirus by further advancing the teleworking efforts I just described, and further narrowing down the number of personnel working in person at MOFA.
Furthermore, it is certainly not the case that personnel who do not work in person at MOFA will be idle. They will of course work on various duties while at home. MOFA will continue to exert all efforts so that duties such as protecting Japanese nationals do not stagnate, even if personnel are working at home.
(3) Departure from Foreign Countries and Repatriation of Japanese Nationals Aboard Special Commercial Flights and Private Chartered Planes Implemented Through Support from Diplomatic Missions
Minister MOTEGI: Through now, over 100 people have departed and been repatriated from various countries aboard special commercial flights and private chartered planes implemented through support from diplomatic missions. Various support has been provided centered on diplomatic missions, including appealing to and conducting coordination with local governments and airlines companies, jointly using chartered planes with other countries, cooperating with local overseas Japanese communities and chambers of commerce, gathering people who want to return to Japan, and helping people travel to airports.
To introduce the main cases of departure from various countries and repatriation as a result of this, there is firstly Peru, as has been stated. Two routes were used. The first was the chartered plane arranged by the Taiwan Economic and Cultural Representative Office in Peru. On March 29, the plane flew from Cusco to Lima and then to Miami with 29 Japanese nationals on board.
In addition, a chartered plane arranged by a private airline company flew from Cusco to Lima and then to Mexico City all on March 30 with 104 Japanese nationals on board.
Moreover, in regard to Poland, 147 Japanese nationals boarded a special flight operated by LOT Polish Airlines heading for Japan.
In addition, in regard to Uzbekistan, 174 Japanese nationals boarded a special flight operated by Uzbekistan Airways. Since the day Uzbekistan announced its strong measure to completely suspend all international flights, the Embassy of Japan in Uzbekistan strongly and repeatedly made requests at a high level for arrangement of repatriation of Japanese nationals. Uzbekistan took into account the importance of its bilateral relations with Japan, and decided to make an exception for this special flight that also had the purpose of repatriating Uzbekistani nationals residing in Japan.
After this, the Embassy of Japan in Uzbekistan provided support that included gathering the Japanese nationals who wished to return to Japan, providing interpretation for purchasing the plane tickets, and providing support for travel to the airport, which enabled 174 people to safely return to Japan. The flight departed from Tashkent on April 2 and landed at Narita Airport on April 3.
In regard to Bangladesh, 295 Japanese nationals were repatriated aboard a chartered plane from Biman Bangladesh Airlines arranged by a Japanese expat organization and chamber of commerce. The flight departed on April 2 from Dhaka and landed at Narita Airport on the same day.
In addition, in regard to the Pacific island nation of Fiji, 195 Japanese nationals were repatriated aboard a special flight from Fiji Airways that departed from Nadi on April 3 and landed at Narita Airport on the same day.
In regard to Laos, 113 Japanese nationals were repatriated aboard a special flight from Lao Airlines that departed from Vientiane on April 6 and landed at Narita Airport on the same day.
Lastly, in regard to India, JAL and ANA has been operating special flights since March 22. Including the flights tomorrow, April 8, in total, JAL will have operated 12 special flights and ANA will have operated five special flights. 2,139 Japanese nationals have been repatriated thus far.
Novel Coronavirus (Declaration of a State of Emergency, MOFA’s Response)
NHK, YAMAMOTO: I would like to ask questions in relation to the declaration of a state of emergency. Prime Minister Abe plans to declare a state of emergency today. What is your frank reaction to the fact such a situation has arisen? Also, when a state of emergency is declared, are there any other responses that MOFA needs to take besides teleworking, which you mentioned earlier?
Minister MOTEGI: Declaring a statement of emergency is a government decision based on the views of experts. As stated now, the novel coronavirus is rapidly spreading in various countries, a phenomenon first seen in Europe including in Italy, and which is now progressing in the United States including New York. Such a situation, in which the novel coronavirus rapidly spread and the healthcare system could not respond, could arise in Japan, and thus a decision was made.
MOFA will firstly decrease the number of people who commute to work by utilizing teleworking, as I mentioned before. Furthermore, we will also firstly take thorough measures for double shifts in various divisions.
Also, new personnel have just entered MOFA. We will take measures including not holding large-scale training as much as possible, and not holding large meetings at MOFA. In addition, work that can be done via email or teleconference will be handled that way. For work that can be done without meeting face-to-face, as much as possible, we want to shift to doing them that way.
Furthermore, we will look at the circumstances for holding meetings that are in a sense non-urgent, while considering the priority level of work. We will conduct such consideration.
Moreover, we will also take this opportunity to optimize as much as possible matters such as management methods for duties and related aspects such as how much time is taken and how many people are needed.
I believe that this should be possible for Diet-related work. We will optimize whatever we can optimize.
Novel Coronavirus (Alert Issued to U.S. Nationals by the U.S. Embassy Tokyo)
Independent Web Journal, HAMAMOTO: The U.S. Embassy Tokyo issued a “Health Alert” that states, “The Japanese Government’s decision to not test broadly makes it difficult to accurately assess the COVID-19 prevalence rate,” and urges U.S. nationals to promptly return to the United States. Has the Government of Japan decided not to test broadly, and was this only conveyed to the United States? If that is not true, then has a protest been issued to the U.S. Embassy? In addition, there has been major criticism both in and outside Japan about the small number of tests carried out in Japan thus far. I believe that if our allies consider Japan to be an untrustworthy country, that will consequently affect security issues. I believe that Japan should immediately increase testing to the same level as various foreign countries. What is your view?
Minister MOTEGI: Japan thoroughly implements testing when doctors decide it is necessary, and firmly responds in line with the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines to test not only people with symptoms who have had close contact with infected people, but also people who are suspected of being infected. Although it is the case that a small number of PCR tests have been carried out in Japan, the number of deaths due to novel coronavirus infection is also small. CT scans are always conducted for people who become sick with pneumonia, and PCR tests are always conducted for people with interstitial pneumonia who are suspected of being possibly infected with the novel coronavirus. I am firmly providing careful explanations about these efforts to the United States.
Novel Coronavirus (Provision of Avigan)
Yomiuri Shimbun, ABE: In relation to provision of Avigan which you mentioned in your opening remarks, when is it expected that provision will begin? You mentioned that coordination has been completed for 20 countries, so can you please tell us the main countries?
Minister MOTEGI: Firstly, I stated that coordination has been completed for 20 countries, and coordination is currently being conducted for 30 countries. Avigan is assumed to have side effects, so coordination is being conducted to provide it to countries that wish to receive it after providing careful explanations about what kind of medication it is, and with agreement in documents on appropriate usage, disclaimer requirements, provision of data to Japan, and other matters. Avigan will be provided sequentially to these countries after these procedures are completed. The countries are Indonesia, Myanmar, Albania, Ukraine, Estonia, Cyprus, Kosovo, San Marino, Georgia, Slovenia, Serbia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Bulgaria, Moldova, Luxemburg, the United Arab Emirates, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey.
Novel Coronavirus (Information Provision Related to the Declaration of a State of Emergency)
Nikkei Shimbun, MIYASAKA: In relation to the declaration of a state of emergency, how will information provision be conducted in order to protect Japanese nationals in various countries overseas? Also, infections are spreading in various countries where there are diplomatic missions, so is consideration being conducted on matters such as further reviewing the structure of their duties?
Minister MOTEGI: I do not think it would be ideal to gather diplomatic missions and foreign press personnel if a state of emergency is declared. We will consider appropriate means including online methods and email. We will carefully provide a public explanation about the outline of the state of emergency. In response to your second question, it is as I answered in my previous press conference.
Novel Coronavirus (Concerns About Global Food Shortages)
Independent Web Journal, HAMAMOTO: The Directors-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the WHO, and the World Trade Organization (WTO) have issued statements that the effects of the novel coronavirus crisis pose the danger of causing global food shortages. Japan’s food self-sufficiency rate on a calorie basis is 37%. I believe that MOFA shares part of the responsibility for the fact that Japan’s food security has been overlooked in accordance with requests from the United States through the TPP negotiations and Japan-U.S. trade negotiations. What is your view?
Minister MOTEGI: That is not what I believe.
Novel Coronavirus (Effects on Diplomacy)
Asahi Shimbun, SATO: In relation to the recent diplomatic situation, I believe that the novel coronavirus has made it impossible to hold consultations in person with various countries. What kind of damage do you think this situation has inflicted on diplomacy? On the other hand, provision of Avigan is a positive aspect. What do you think about the effects of the novel coronavirus on Japan’s diplomacy, and what will you do going forward?
Minister MOTEGI: Firstly, the novel coronavirus issue is above all an issue concerning human life, and we must treat this as our utmost priority. At the same time, this is not only an issue faced by Japan. Infections are spreading in most of the countries in the world, and these countries are fighting this. Amidst this, various matters are stagnating in respective countries including diplomacy, economies, people-to-people exchanges, and cultural activities.
However, it cannot be helped that there are some restrictions for the purpose of preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus. Nevertheless, diplomacy is important, so we will continue it in whatever ways we can. As telephone talks, teleconferences, and other meetings have been held dozens of times among the foreign ministers of various countries during the past two weeks or so, international sharing of information and expertise has been advanced. Furthermore, there has also been advancement of strengthening private and public sector cooperation as well as international cooperation for medication and vaccine development. Cooperation among various countries for border enforcement measures is also important.
Also, amidst concerns about the spread of the novel coronavirus in developing countries, including countries in Africa, we can see that the entire international community has been agreeing to continue and strengthen support for these developing countries and Japan will provide Avigan in line with this policy. As for other matters, we will firmly advance the relevant measures as well.
New economic measures will be compiled after this, and Japan will advance necessary measures by firmly ensuring the budget needed for this. We will of course exert all efforts to bring the situation under control as quickly as possible, and for the people’s lives and diplomatic activities to return to normal as soon as possible.