Press Conference by Foreign Press Secretary OHTAKA Masato
Thursday, April 9, 2020, 4:39 p.m. Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Mr. OHTAKA Masato, Press Secretary: If I may make some brief remarks, I apologize for the urgent change of date of the press conference scheduled to be held yesterday. It was changed due to the circumstances, but I apologize that this happened at a time when many of you are teleworking.
Novel Coronavirus (System of Work of Diplomatic Missions)
Kyodo News, WATARAI: I would like to ask about the system of work of diplomatic missions due to the spread of the novel coronavirus. As Minister Motegi mentioned in his recent press conference, in the same way as MOFA, staggered work hours, teleworking, and other efforts are also being carrid out at diplomatic missions. Can you please tell us what kind of reviews, including on over-the-counter services, were conducted at diplomatic missions as a result, along with specific examples?
Press Secretary OHTAKA: The declaration of a state of emergency was for within Japan, so in that sense, it should not directly affect diplomatic missions. Nevertheless, based on the ongoing situation of the spread of the novel coronavirus worldwide, in order to avoid the risk of suspension of the diplomatic missions’ official functions, as has been stated through now, diplomatic missions have been taking infection control measures in the same way as MOFA including thoroughly promoting practices such as handwashing and cough etiquette, utilizing teleworking and staggered work hours, and preventing suspension of functions by dividing personnel into teams and coming to work. Also, various business trips and the like have of course been reduced to the absolute minimum amount necessary.
In this way, teleworking has actually already been adopted at most diplomatic missions. These efforts will be further advanced going forward depending on the circumstances. The efforts are characterized by the introduction of a split-team structure. We will thoroughly implement dividing personnel into two teams that either work at home or commute to work, including for diplomatic missions.
In regard to over-the-counter services that you mentioned, I believe that consular services are particularly important at MOFA and diplomatic missions. A certain level of resourcefulness is necessary to firmly continue these important duties. I believe that it will probably be necessary to be resourceful in combining various measures such as shortened counter hours, introducing appointment systems, and slightly extending document processing times. Basically, we will continue over-the-counter services and support to protect Japanese nationals who are overseas.
Novel Coronavirus (System of Work at MOFA)
Sankei Shimbun, HARAKAWA: You just discussed diplomatic missions. What measures are being taken at MOFA? I have heard that personnel have been divided into two teams. After how many days do the teams alternate? I believe that personnel are divided into teams because if everyone came in to work, if one person became infected then everyone would have to be quarantined. Just in case, can you please explain the actual situation and aim of dividing personnel into teams?
Press Secretary OHTAKA: Although I believe each division is a little different, as I stated before, the team structure at MOFA to reduce risks and to be able to properly continue functions, had already been implemented before the state of emergency was declared. As Minister Motegi stated in his recent press conference, we will further advance such efforts.
We are teleworking to the maximum extent possible amidst the current situation in which a state of emergency has been declared. For example, there is an alternating system as much as possible for senior officials such as directors-general and officials in the rank after them including deputy assistant ministers and senior deputy ministers, as well as among division directors and principle deputy directors. In the event that an infection occurs for one side, the other team can properly continue the work with certainty. This is being thoroughly implemented in the bureaus and divisions of MOFA.
Additionally, the government is seeking to reduce people to people contact by 70% to 80%. Therefore, various reviews are being conducted regarding people commuting to work within the Tokyo metropolitan area, and MOFA is also again making efforts to narrow down the number of personnel who commute to work in conjunction with the declaration of a state of emergency. We are thoroughly implementing measures in various bureaus and divisions so that, for example, document-creation work is conducted by personnel working at home as much as possible.
Also, there are various meetings with large numbers of participants, including, of course, at MOFA. At the moment, we are refraining from holding such meetings if doing so would not adversely impact our work. Put another way, we are only holding meetings that are truly necessary. We are refraining from holding meetings besides those. We are also currently using communication tools such as teleconferences and email as much as possible.
Sankei Shimbun, HARAKAWA: To confirm a detail, are you also implementing staggered working hours so that everyone does not necessarily need to come to work at 9:30 a.m.?
Press Secretary OHTAKA: Staggered working hours have actually been tentatively recommended even before the declaration of a state of emergency from the perspective of lowering the risk of infection of various personnel. Working from home is also recommended. In a sense the overall policy at MOFA has been consistent. Please understand that our aim has become stronger to make our work style more flexible than before.
In that sense, MOFA is of course considering enabling people who must come to work to be resourceful about it, such as staggering work hours and deciding for themselves the best time period for taking their respective means of public transportation in order to lower their risk of infection.
Novel Coronavirus (ASEAN Summit)
NHK, WATANABE: I believe the ASEAN Summit will be held as a telephone talk. Can you please tell us the current status of coordination?
Press Secretary OHTAKA: I am aware that there are some reports about this. In any event, I would like to refrain from answering at the present point as this is a matter related to diplomatic communication.
Novel Coronavirus (President Trump’s Criticism of the World Health Organization (WHO))
NHK, WATANABE: I would like to ask about a different matter. In relation to the spread of the novel coronavirus, President Trump of the United States has said about China – how should I say this – is suggesting that the United States will suspend its contributions to the WHO because of the China issue. What stance does the Government of Japan have about this statement? I believe President Trump is saying this because the WHO tends to take responses closely with China. What is your view on this?
Press Secretary OHTAKA: I would like to refrain from commenting on behalf of Japan in regard to individual statements made by the leaders of foreign countries. However, in any event, the novel coronavirus is a global issue. In other words, because it has become an epidemic, the Government of Japan believes that this is a situation in which the countries of the world, including the United States, must closely cooperate, and that there must be full cooperation with international organizations including the WHO.
NHK, WATANABE: I would like to ask another related question. On the other hand, some people in the United States are saying that the origin of the novel coronavirus could have been in a laboratory in Wuhan, and that this was the original source of the outbreak in Wuhan. They are saying that they would like this to be fully investigated. How does Japan view the various disputes concerning the virus outbreak location between China and the United States?
Press Secretary OHTAKA: Minister Motegi has made various statements through now regarding discussions on where the outbreak of the novel coronavirus began. In any event, various countries are concentrating on how to overcome the crisis now. Countries, including Japan, are maximizing support necessary for that purpose. In that sense, I believe we are forming a scrum with the world.
However, in any event, because such a crisis could strike humanity even in the future, we must learn various lessons from this and fully leverage those lessons. I believe that efforts will absolutely be undertaken for various tests and analyses internationally, and we must fully make use of them.
NHK, WATANABE: In that case, do you envision that Japan will request the Chinese authorities’ cooperation at some point in time to investigate the facts about what the novel coronavirus origin was and how it spread around the world?
Press Secretary OHTAKA: The current stage is a time in which we should concentrate on preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus. I would like to refrain from speculating about future communication at the present point.
Novel Coronavirus (Emergency Economic Measures and the Supplementary Budget)
Yomiuri Shimbun, OYABU: I would like to ask about strengthening Japan’s information communication aimed at overseas countries through social media and other sources concerning Japan’s response to the novel coronavirus, which was incorporated in the economic measures recently approved by the Cabinet. I believe that the response is already being communicated through MOFA’s social media, the videos of press conferences, and more. Can you please tell us if this will be strengthened or changed going forward due to measures incorporated in the supplementary budget?
Press Secretary OHTAKA: I could not catch part of what you just said. I understood that your question is about external communication. The supplementary budget includes a budget to strengthen external communication. Of course, we begin by monitoring various reports every day, and already conduct consideration on the issues of the various content to communicate and the communication methods, which include social media in this era. Due to the novel coronavirus situation, it is necessary to further strengthen Japan’s external communication, so a budget was allocated for this.
It is correct to understand that no specific new matters have been introduced. We are instead working on all the steps, including communication and monitoring as I mentioned earlier, because there are areas that can be strengthened if the budget is strengthened considerably.
Yomiuri Shimbun, OYABU: In relation to this, are you considering explaining the aim of the recent declaration of a state of emergency internationally?
Press Secretary OHTAKA: The supplementary budget will be implemented over a little more time going forward. We need to make efforts immediately, and are already making efforts, so that the measures Japan is taking, including declaring a state of emergency, are accurately understood internationally and by the media in foreign countries. There is absolutely no change to the fact that we need to do this.
Novel Coronavirus (Repatriation Support for Japanese Nationals Residing in Foreign Countries)
Kyodo News, WATARAI: I would like to ask a question in relation to the novel coronavirus. International cooperation is being advanced for various countries, including Japan, to repatriate their nationals from overseas countries by jointly using special flights of commercial planes and chartered planes. Can you please tell us about the background enabling this and the merits of joint utilization?
Press Secretary OHTAKA: As stated, there are many Japanese nationals who traveled to or reside in overseas countries who cannot move as they thought they could. I believe that supporting these people is, in a sense, one of MOFA’s most important duties. Rather than the significance and so on of providing support for this, I believe that it is of course something that we absolutely must do as our duty.
In that sense, as there are people stranded in various locations now, for example, we have been considering departure methods and providing information to people who wish to depart from the country they are in. We are providing various forms of necessary support, including appealing to local governments or foreign regions to arrange chartered flights for Japanese nationals to depart by airplane, gathering people who wish to be repatriated, and providing support for travel to airports.
Diplomatic missions have also been providing support, and Minister Motegi has explained several specific examples in his press conferences through now. We have realized swift repatriation of many Japanese nationals.