The Nippon Foundation to Help Transport COVID-19 Patients, Medical Professionals [2020年05月26日（Tue）]
Speaking at a press conference in Tokyo on May 20, 2020, I announce The Nippon Foundation’s second initiative in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, this time to help transport doctors and nurses, and patients with minor symptoms, to and from hospital.
The Nippon Foundation has announced a new, one billion yen initiative to help transport to and from hospital coronavirus patients with mild symptoms, and doctors and nurses working around the clock to combat COVID-19.
I made the announcement at a press conference on May 20 when there were still about 4,500 COVID-19 patients across Japan, including 1,500 in Tokyo, who were being looked after in hospital. This was the foundation’s second project in response to the pandemic, following the one we announced in April to set up a makeshift facility in Tokyo with up to 600 beds for patients who are asymptomatic or exhibit only minor symptoms.
Under the new initiative, the foundation will first distribute taxi vouchers worth up to one million yen to each of about 200 medical institutions in Tokyo that are treating COVID-19 patients. They will be used by doctors and nurses when they go to and from hospital over a three-month period, starting June 2.
Second, we will team up with major taxi operator Nihon Kotsu Co. to lease up to 100 specially designed vehicles for 10 months from early June for transporting COVID-19 patients with slight symptoms to and from hospital and other accommodations where they are being taken care of.
To prevent airborne droplets from the patient reaching the driver, the interior of the vehicle, which is based on a Toyota JPN Taxi, is divided into two compartments. The front compartment is for the driver and the rear compartment is for the COVID-19 patient. A fan will continuously extract air from the rear compartment.
The costs of outfitting and leasing the vehicles, hiring drivers (their remuneration will include hazard pay) and other expenses are estimated to total 800 million yen. Drivers will be assigned by Nihon Kotsu from among those of its employees who agree to transport COVID-19 patients with minor symptoms.
Donations made to the foundation by some 16,000 people since early April in response to the coronavirus outbreak, totaling about 860 million yen as of May 20, will cover most of the costs.
I might note that a great majority of the donors requested that the money be used to support doctors and nurses who are looking after COVID-19 patients, night and day. I would like to take this opportunity to extend my wholehearted gratitude to them for their contributions.
After scrutinizing what we do in Tokyo, which has the largest number of confirmed cases of the disease and the highest hospital occupancy rate, the foundation will consider providing similar assistance to other parts of the country.
On May 25, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced he was lifting the state of emergency for Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures of Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba, as well as the northernmost island prefecture of Hokkaido, thus ending the state of emergency nationwide. As he noted, there has been a noticeable decline in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Japan.
But as an old saying goes, providing is preventing. I believe we need to prepare for a second and third wave of COVID-19 infections, given that no vaccine or proven drug treatments have yet been developed.
We are determined to help doctors, nurses and other professionals, who have saved so many lives from the disease by risking their own, continue to perform their crucially important mission.
The Nippon Foundation will lease up to 100 of these specially
designed vehicles for transporting COVID-19 patients with minor
symptoms. The taxi features separate compartments for driver and
rear-seat passenger to prevent airborne droplets circulating within the vehicle.
Japanese Youths Face Up to Coronavirus Pandemic [2020年05月22日（Fri）]
The Nippon Foundation conducted the 25th installment of an Awareness Survey of 18-Year-Olds for three days from April 21 to look into how Japanese youths feel about the novel coronavirus pandemic and its impact on society.
The online survey, covering 1,000 Japanese aged between 17 and 19, showed that while three in four respondents (75.6%) think Japanese people are taking the government’s stay-at-home requests lightly, a vast majority of them (87.4%) reduced person-to-person contact by more than half themselves, with one in three refraining from going out at all.
On how Japan should change in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, 58.1% of Japanese youths said that each person should take responsibility for their own safety, more than twice the number (27.8%) who think the government should be authorized to work out strong measures. Regarding school closures and the cancellation of entrance and graduation ceremonies, 91% said there were no other choices.
The poll results illustrated clearly Japanese youths’ resolve to face up to the outbreak of the deadly disease. It is possible, though, that they were affected by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s announcement on April 16, just days before the survey, that he was extending the state of emergency from seven prefectures to the entire country to contain the spread of COVID-19.
The poll also showed that two in three young Japanese (67.0%) expected there will be a change in society in such areas as the economy (74.2%), healthcare services (64.8%), employment (56.3%) and politics (46.1%), with multiple answers allowed.
But when asked what needs to be changed, politics easily came out on top with 45.6%, followed by healthcare services (17.2%), the economy (13.9%), employment (11.5%), education (7.0%), and the international community (4.8%). This indicates how harshly Japanese youths view what they see as the turmoil gripping the nation’s politics.
It is noteworthy that youths called for responsible behavior and solidarity on the part of society as a whole in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, as indicated by some of their comments: “I want to aim at a society where each of us acts with a sense of responsibility.” “There are always pros and cons. It solves nothing to argue. We want to overcome this crisis with the whole nation united and cooperating.” “Each of us should act responsibly, doing away with the notion that it has nothing to do with me.”
Regarding what will happen after the coronavirus crisis is over, 69.1% of them said they had no idea when it will end. Other worries expressed are they may get infected with the disease (59.7%), school closures might impact their future education, entrance exams and employment (55.9%), the nation’s medical system might be on the verge of collapse (42.4%) and they might transmit the disease to others if they catch the virus (41.9%).
I believe that their responses give a glimpse of their deep anxiety about the COVID-19 outbreak, with no vaccine or proven drug treatments yet developed.
The Awareness Survey of 18-Year-Olds was the 25th in the series launched by The Nippon Foundation in October 2018, covering 17- to 19-year-olds in Japan. The survey is designed to track the attitudes and awareness of young Japanese regarding politics, society, work, families, friends, and other issues.
Smokers Across the World Under Growing Pressure to Quit [2020年05月19日（Tue）]
―Novel Coronavirus and Smoking 3―
Tokyo’s Minato Ward has closed off 28 outdoor smoking areas since April 14 until further notice. This was part of its efforts to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus by avoiding the so-called “Three Cs”−Closed spaces with poor ventilation, Crowded places with many people nearby, and Close-contact settings such as close-range conversations.
As I pointed out in my previous blog on May 15, the revised Health Promotion Act, which took effect on April 1, bans indoor smoking across Japan in principle, and most local governments have now enforced ordinances banning smoking on the streets and throwing away cigarette butts. All these have made it extremely difficult for smokers to find places to smoke.
“This is really tough,” one young man grumbled on a television news show, which I believe squarely represents how smokers actually feel.
Then, how about Japan Tobacco Inc. (JT), a leading international tobacco company based in Tokyo with sales in more than 130 countries? The World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), to which Japan is a party, severely restricts not only tobacco advertisements and marketing, but also the kind of social activities JT has launched, such as support for research and humanitarian assistance, that enhance the image of tobacco products.
JT’s afforestation and forest conservation projects undertaken around Japan and its management of professional sport teams could be considered to run counter to FCTC.
Next, sales of heat-not-burn (HNB) products, touted as a next-generation tobacco product, have been on the rise in Japan and some other countries in recent years. Using tobacco leaves, HNB products generate aerosols that are inhaled by users through the mouth.
As HNB products emit less smoke and flavor than conventional cigarettes, they are said to be less likely to expose non-smokers to secondhand smoke. They can also be used in designated heated tobacco smoking rooms and are not subject to any outdoor smoking ban. However, they still produce aerosols containing nicotine and other chemicals, prompting an increasing number of countries to introduce tighter controls on HNB products.
Electronic cigarettes produce an aerosol by heating a liquid that may or may not contain nicotine. Users inhale this aerosol into their lungs. Japan does not approve the sale of e-cigarettes containing nicotine. Advocates for e-cigarettes have promoted their use as a safer alternative to tobacco and a means of helping smokers quit.
But there has been a growing call for banning their sale internationally, as U.S. researchers have found that vaping or using e-cigarettes significantly increases the risk of chronic lung diseases.
There is a worldwide campaign to restrict all tobacco products, not just cigarettes. But in Japan, partly because the government, through the Ministry of Finance, holds a 33.5% stake in JT, the country’s tobacco control efforts have been criticized as insufficient with its laws and regulations out of sync with the WHO FCTC.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, more attention has been paid to the negative effects of smoking. At the same time, businesses have rushed to adopt remote working, mostly from home, on a wider scale than ever seen before, doubtless resulting in more smoking at home and exposing other family members to secondhand smoke. My sincere hope is that COVID-19 gets smokers worldwide reaching for their thinking caps and concluding that now would be a good time to kick the habit.
Revised Act Comes into Force to Penalize Secondhand Smoke in Japan [2020年05月15日（Fri）]
―Novel Coronavirus and Smoking 2―
Though without a lot of fanfare as media coverage has been dominated by the coronavirus pandemic, the revised Health Promotion Act came into full force in Japan on April 1, featuring stepped-up measures against unwanted secondhand smoke or passive smoking.
I would like to express my sincere appreciation to Dr. Manabu Sakuta, chairman of the Japan Society for Tobacco Control, Mr. Fumisato Watanabe, who heads the Tobacco Problems Information Center, and others for their tireless efforts to lobby for revising the law.
The amended act bans indoor smoking in principle, covering 45% of restaurants and bars across the country. In Tokyo, which enforced a tougher metropolitan ordinance, the smoking ban covers 84% or 130,000 of all eating and drinking places in the capital.
With the changing environment surrounding smoking, a private survey shows that more than 60% of smokers in Japan are thinking about quitting. As I wrote in my previous blog, smokers are exposed to a higher risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19. I hope and expect that the coronavirus pandemic combined with the revised Health Promotion Act will further accelerate the trend toward smoking cessation.
Under the partial revision of the law, which took effect in July last year, smoking is prohibited at schools, hospitals, child welfare facilities and government office buildings. Following the full revision effective on April 1 this year, indoor smoking is prohibited at restaurants, bars, company offices and recreational facilities, with smokers who violate the law subjected to fines up to ￥300,000.
But it is not without loopholes. Even under Tokyo’s stricter metropolitan ordinance, smoking is still allowed in designated smoking rooms of restaurants and smoking seats in restaurants with no employees.
It is preferable to impose a total smoking ban at eating and drinking establishments. The revised act lacks teeth to thoroughly implement measures against secondhand smoke. Some restaurants are reluctant to introduce a total ban as they want to lure smokers while others find it difficult to implement the ban due to staff shortages.
As an old proverb goes: There's many a slip twixt the cup and the lip. Many problems remain unsolved even after the revision of the Health Promotion Act; given the way that Japan Tobacco Inc. (JT), a leading international tobacco company based in Tokyo, operates, they are the sort of problems that could potentially draw international criticism sooner or later. I will write about JT someday.
According to the results of an internet survey on smoking and secondhand smoke by Johnson & Johnson K.K. Consumer Company before the revision of the law, 72.2% of smokers feel ashamed of smoking, while 64.3% of them feel like quitting, prompted by the revision of the act, much larger than the 35.7% who do not feel that way.
Smokers now face an increasingly uphill battle. The COVID-19 pandemic, along with the revision of the Health Promotion Act, should be a new turning point pushing them to quit. I sincerely hope they will stop smoking to save their own lives and, above anything, those of their loved ones.
Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic, Now is the Best Time to Quit Smoking [2020年05月12日（Tue）]
―Novel Coronavirus and Smoking 1―
As the world struggles with the deadly coronavirus pandemic, there is a growing call for smokers at home and abroad to kick the habit, which makes them more vulnerable to COVID-19 and exposes them to a higher risk of developing severe illness from the disease.
Since 2008, when a pack of 20 cigarettes cost around 300 yen, I have proposed a number of times raising the price to 1,000 yen. This has provoked a strong reaction, both for and against, with some extremists calling me “stupid” or even telling me, “You should die!” (As of March 2020, most cigarette brands cost between 400 yen and 500 yen a pack in Japan.)
In the past, when journalists wrote with a cigarette in one hand and a pen in the other, the media weren’t particularly interested in promoting no smoking, and articles would explore both sides of the debate. But with the advent of the personal computer, things started to change and there has been a considerable decline in the number of journalists who smoke.
My goal was to reduce the chance of non-smokers’ being exposed to secondhand smoke−the unwanted breathing in of other people's cigarette smoke, or passive smoking−by raising the price of cigarettes. I now issue a fresh call to smokers to quit to save their own lives and those of their family members.
According to international wire reports, the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease issued a statement on April 3, telling smokers that "this is the absolute best time to quit smoking" and urging the tobacco industry to “immediately stop producing, marketing and selling tobacco.”
“Smoking weakens the immune system and its responsiveness to infections, making smokers more vulnerable to infectious diseases,” including COVID-19, the statement said.
Prior to this, the Japan Society for Tobacco Control and the Tobacco Problems Information Center jointly announced on March 31 an urgent appeal, titled “How not to contract and to prevent COVID-19.” The advice is clear: “Quite smoking. Avoid passive smoking.”
According to a 2018 survey by Japan Tobacco Inc., smokers accounted for 27.8% of Japanese adult males, and 8.7% of females. These represented decreases of 11.7 percentage points for male smokers and 4.2 percentage points for females. Though there has been a steady decline in numbers, an estimated 14 million Japanese males still smoke. This is still on a high plateau compared with the United States and some European countries. Alarmed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Japan Society for Tobacco Control is determined to further beef up its activities.
It may be that what smokers really feel is expressed in the words of the old song by the late Japanese singer Hitoshi Ueki: “I know what I’m doing is bad for me, but I can’t help myself.” It is my sincere hope that they seriously consider quitting as it affects not only their own lives but also those of the people around them.
The Nippon Foundation Modifies Emergency COVID-19 Response, Readying up to 600 Beds in Tokyo [2020年05月07日（Thu）]
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe extended on May 4 the nationwide state of emergency until May 31 to further contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.This was in part necessary to remove some of the strain on hospitals overcrowded with COVID-19 patients.
To free up hospital beds for severely ill and high-risk patients, The Nippon Foundation announced on April 3 that it would build a makeshift facility in Tokyo with some 1,200 beds for patients with mild or no symptoms, and later a larger facility in Tsukuba, north of Tokyo.
Now, as a result of close consultations with the Tokyo Metropolitan government and medical experts since then, we have decided to scale down the initial plan in order to better meet the changing needs on the front lines and ensure that patients have a comfortable stay.
At a press conference on May 1, I announced a modified three-stage initiative calling for readying up to 600 beds, instead of 1,200 under the initial plan, in Tokyo for patients who are asymptomatic or exhibit only mild symptoms.
First, the foundation has already completed a makeshift facility in The Nippon Foundation Para Arena, a dedicated para sports gymnasium, in Odaiba on Tokyo Bay. The facility comprises 100 10-square-meter private rooms, each with a bed, desk, chair and locker, with 30 toilets and showers to be built outside the gym by mid-May.
Second, we will set up by late May a large air-conditioned tent in a parking lot of the adjacent Museum of Maritime Science, operated by our partner organization, with 60 beds for COVID-19 patients. If necessary, we are ready to pitch more tents to accommodate up to 300 more patients.
Third, we will build by the end of June prefabricated buildings with 140 20-square-meter private rooms, each with its own bathtub, toilet and laundry facilities. They are designed to accommodate infected people living with families, including single parents and their children.
All the facilities will be one-story buildings so that doctors, nurses and healthcare staffers can work efficiently.
Costs of setting up and running the facilities, recruiting doctors, nurses and medical staff, paying their salaries, buying their surgical masks, gowns and other personal protective equipment, covering their meals and other expenses will all be taken care of by the foundation.
But as the foundation is offering the assistance as a private sector entity, the metropolitan government will be responsible for the medical and operational details.
As for the 9,000-bed Tsukuba facility, the foundation’s president Takeju Ogata briefed the city’s mayor, Tatsuo Igarashi, on the state of our plan at the municipal office in Ibaraki Prefecture, north of Tokyo, on April 30. Mr. Ogata promised we will continue to consult with the city as we proceed.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said: "Since the Second World War, there has been no challenge to our nation that has demanded such a degree of common and united action."
I believe we need to recognize the gravity of the crisis posed by the coronavirus wreaking havoc around the world. It is crucially important that the central and local governments and the private sector all unite to defeat COVID-19.
The Nippon Foundation has completed a makeshift facility in The Nippon Foundation Para Arena in Tokyo with 100 beds for coronavirus patients with mild or no symptoms.
New Fund Created to Support Medical Professionals, Volunteers Fighting COVID-19 [2020年05月01日（Fri）]
The Nippon Foundation and three former members of the iconic band SMAP−Goro Inagaki, Tsuyoshi Kusanagi and Shingo Katori−announced on April 27 that they have jointly established a new fund to support the activities of doctors, nurses, healthcare staff and volunteers working on the front lines battling the coronavirus. The fund, which is being administered jointly, will also aid family members of those medical professionals as well as children of single parents infected with COVID-19.
Love Pocket Fund will call for donations from the public on top of the 30 million yen donated by the trio, who have formed a new group called Atarashii Chizu (Japanese for “new map”).
The COVID-19 response is the group’s initial priority. They said they will discuss among themselves how else the money they donated is to be used, including supporting children from low-income households and those with serious illness, and helping create employment for persons with disabilities. This, they hope, will contribute to cultivating the culture of donations in Japan.
I was quite impressed by the enthusiasm of the trio, who said they can be happy by being kind to others. The establishment of the fund has drawn widespread attention on social media and news outlets.
Donations by celebrities are common in many countries, but Japan has been left behind on this front. I sincerely hope that Love Pocket Fund will lead the way to an era when Japanese celebrities and big-name athletes regularly make donations for charitable activities.
The Nippon Foundation will use 100 percent of the money donated to the fund on the COVID-19 response and other activities, with indirect costs to be borne by us.
The size of donations does not matter. What is important is whether you want to support people in trouble.
If you are interested in donating, details can be seen HERE in Japanese.