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Working Timeline of Covid-19 in Japan

SNA (Tokyo) — The Covid-19 crisis became a dominating issue for the world, and Japan was no exception. The following is a working timeline which the Shingetsu News Agency intends to update in the weeks and months ahead. However, note that events are largely listed according to the date that we first reported them, and in some cases, therefore, they may have occurred the calendar date previous to how they are recorded on this timeline.

2020
January

January 16: A Chinese national in Kanagawa Prefecture confirmed as the first coronavirus case in Japan.

January 22: The Health Ministry says that it will strengthen its vigilance on visitors from Wuhan, China.

January 23: Japan urges its nationals to avoid traveling to Wuhan.

January 24: A second Chinese tourist from Wuhan tests positive for coronavirus infection.

January 25: The number of Chinese nationals in Japan infected with coronavirus rises to four.

January 28: In Nara, the first coronavirus infection of a Japanese who had not travelled abroad is reported. The total number of cases reaches seven. The government begins sending chartered planes to Wuhan to evacuate the hundreds of Japanese who are trapped there. The Cabinet approves a measure to classify pneumonia caused by the new coronavirus as a “designated infectious disease,” allowing for compulsory hospitalization of patients.

January 30: Three Japanese evacuated from Wuhan test positive for the new coronavirus, as the total number of cases in Japan reaches 14.

January 31: The government bans entry to Japan of all foreign nationals who visited China’s Hubei Province within the past 14 days. The Foreign Ministry raises its travel advisory for all of China, warning its nationals to avoid “nonessential” trips. The Shinzo Abe government fends off criticism that it is acting too slowly.

February

February 3: The Diamond Princess cruise ship is quarantined in Yokohama harbor after a former passenger tests positive for the coronavirus.

February 5: Health Minister Katsunobu Kato reports that 10 passengers on the Diamond Princess have tested positive for the coronavirus, and that is after only the first 31 test results.

February 7: Japan becomes second only to mainland China in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases, mainly due to the infection spreading on the Diamond Princess. Ship passengers begin to appeal for rescue from foreign governments, using social media and through news interviews. Minister of State for Economic and Fiscal Policy Yasutoshi Nishimura says the economic impact of the coronavirus is beginning to be felt in Japan. The Holland America Line Westerdam cruise ship is denied entry to Japan after one passenger is suspected of coronavirus infection, and other cruise ships are also warned away.

February 10: Coronavirus infections on the Diamond Princess are confirmed to be well over 100 cases.

February 12: The total combined number of (newly-named) Covid-19 cases in Japan crosses the 200 mark. The government extends the China travel ban to people coming from Zhejiang Province, a coastal area that has no border with Hubei Province.

February 13: A Japanese woman in her 80s who lives in Kanagawa Prefecture is confirmed as the first fatality in Japan from the Covid-19 coronavirus. 

February 15: The US government announces it will fly its citizens on board the Diamond Princess back to the United States, but then force them to stay another two weeks in quarantine. Americans who don’t take up the offer are threatened with not being allowed back in to the country “for a period of time.”

February 16: The number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Japan crosses the 400 mark, the overwhelming majority on the Diamond Princess.  Canada announces it will evacuate its citizens from the Diamond Princess “to lighten the burden on the Japanese health-care system.” Other governments follow suit as faith in the Abe government’s handling of the issue plummets. The Health Ministry admits that in some of the recent cases they are unable to trace the route of infection.

February 18: Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi encourages his ministry bureaucrats to begin teleworking from home and use staggered hours in the office as a measure to slow the spread of Covid-19.

February 19: About 500 mostly elderly passengers are being allowed to disembark from the Diamond Princess as the quarantine period comes to an end. With well over 500 other people now confirmed infected, many observers doubt the Abe government contention that this policy is safe. Kentaro Iwata, an infectious diseases expert at Kobe University, posts YouTube videos declaring that infection control on board the Diamond Princess was “completely inadequate” and “chaotic.”

February 20: Two former Diamond Princess passengers die from the Covid-19 infection, bringing the total death toll in Japan to three people. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says people with cold-like symptoms shouldn’t go to work, and he urges more companies to embrace the “effective alternative” of teleworking.

February 22: US Centers for Disease Control issues a travel advisory for Japan over the Covid-19 threat, warning Americans to “practice usual precautions” in Japan. Health Minister Katsunobu Kato asks the Japan Business Federation (Keidanren) to ask its member companies to begin promoting teleworking and the use of staggered hours as a measure to slow the spread of Covid-19.

February 23: A passenger who completed her quarantine period on the Diamond Princess and was allowed to return back to Japan’s general population tests positive for Covid-19, undermining Abe government claims that the matter had been handled properly. Also, Health Minister Katsunobu Kato admits that 23 passengers were released at the end of the quarantine period without having taken any tests for Covid-19 infection due to “procedural mistakes.” The Abe government leaks to the Japanese media that it was the US government that asked Japan to carry out the quarantine on board the Diamond Princess, suggesting that the Donald Trump government had opposed a Japanese plan to move the US passengers to Yokota Air Base. US Centers for Disease Control upgrades its travel advisory to Level 2 for Japan over the Covid-19 threat, warning Americans to “practice enhanced precautions” in Japan.

February 24: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe instructs his government to swiftly draw up a basic policy to combat Covid-19. Israel bans the entry of all travelers from Japan.

February 25: The Abe government’s hastily compiled basic policy on Covid-19 calls for efforts to slow the spread of the infection as much as possible so as to prevent a general epidemic and to give medical institutions more time to prepare for an increase in patients. The Abe government says that the next two weeks will be critical in determining whether or not infection spins out of control in Japan. It says people who have mild fevers or cold-like symptoms should just stay home, not infect coworkers and not burden hospitals. Health Minister Katsunobu Kato says it’s “too early” to talk about cancelling the Tokyo Olympics over the Covid-19 threat. J-League soccer executives announce that they will postpone all official matches.

February 26: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe asks that all sporting and cultural events be cancelled across the nation as a measure to slow the spread of Covid-19 infection during this crucial period. International Olympic Committee member Dick Pound says that if the coronavirus situation doesn’t improve in the next two or three months, the most likely result is a cancellation of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

February 27: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe requests all elementary, junior high, and high schools across Japan to close temporarily, as a measure to slow the spread of Covid-19 infection. The closures to begin from March 2. The national deadline for filing personal income taxes in Japan is extended from March 16 to April 16.

February 29: Hokkaido Governor Naomichi Suzuki declares a state of emergency over Covid-19 infection. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announces in a national address that his government is compiling an emergency financial package worth over ¥270 billion (US$2.5 billion) for Covid-19 countermeasures, which will be ready in around ten days. Theme parks such as Tokyo Disneyland and Universal Studios Japan close their doors.

March

March 2: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe asks the National Diet for power to declare a “state of emergency” over Covid-19, but he is cornered into admitting in Diet debate that his decision to call for the closure of all schools in the nation was taken without consulting even a single expert.

March 3: World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declares, “The epidemics in the Republic of Korea, Italy, Iran, and Japan are our greatest concern.” The government of India cancels all visas and eVisas that had been granted to nationals from Japan. Olympics Minister Seiko Hashimoto suggests that instead of being cancelled, the Tokyo 2020 Olympics might be held later in the year. She asserts that so long as they take place before December 31, Japan fulfills the International Olympic Committee’s mandate.

March 4: The total number of Covid-19 cases in Japan, including the Diamond Princess, crosses the 1,000 level. There have been 12 deaths. Beijing Municipal Government announces that any visitors to the city from Japan will be forced to undergo a two-week quarantine before being allowed to enter. Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways announce that they will reduce domestic flights.

March 5: Government announces a de facto entry ban on all travelers from China, South Korea, and Iran, and admits that Chinese President Xi Jinping will not be visiting Japan in April.

March 6: South Korea’s National Security Council condemns Japan’s Covid-19 entry ban.

March 8: Foreign Ministry reports that 27 countries or regions around the world have now imposed some sort of travel restrictions on Japanese over Covid-19 infection fears. Michael Ryan of the World Health Organization denounces Japan and South Korea for engaging in “political spats” over Covid-19 entry bans. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says that small and midsize companies hit by the outbreak of Covid-19 will be eligible for interest and collateral-free loans through the Japan Finance Corporation.

March 9: Covid-19 infections in Japan unrelated to the Diamond Princess cross the 500 level, including six deaths.

March 10: China temporarily suspends visa waivers for Japanese nationals intending to stay 15 days or less for sightseeing, visiting friends, or transit purposes. Business travelers and those visiting family still able to receive visas. Nippon Professional Baseball announces delay in opening the new season.

March 11: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says that the Covid-19 event cancellations, which he originally said were needed for two critical weeks, will actually be needed for a longer period.

March 12: Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike acknowledges that the Covid-19 crisis being declared a pandemic will certainly affect the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, but she insists that an outright cancellation of the Olympics is “impossible.”

March 14: The National Diet, with the support of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, gives Prime Minister Shinzo Abe legal authority to declare a “state of emergency” over the Covid-19 epidemic. Abe declares that there will be no change to Olympics policy, which he says can still be held “without a hitch.” Central Japan Railway announces it will soon reduce services on its Tokaido Shinkansen line between Tokyo Station and Shin-Osaka Stations, as Covid-19 has sharply reduced the amount of passenger traffic.

March 17: Japan, which at one point had the second-most Covid-19 confirmed cases in the world after China, is now thought to be the number eleven nation in terms of cases.

March 18: Hokkaido Governor Naomichi Suzuki announces that his prefecture will be lifting its “state of emergency,” as the local Covid-19 infections seem to be getting effectively contained.

March 19: Japan adds 38 countries, mostly in Europe, to those travelers it is asking to self-isolate for 14 days after arriving in the country.

March 20: Foreign Ministry reports that there are now 112 countries or territories around the world that have imposed some form of travel restriction on people coming from Japan.

March 22: The United States upgrades its travel warning on Japan to Level 3, Avoid Nonessential Travel, as Japan extends its de facto entry ban to those coming from the United States. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe asks smaller companies and retailers to maintain their employees on the payroll during the economic downturn. Saitama Governor Motohiro Ono criticizes the organizers of a large-scale kickboxing event for refusing to cancel or scale back in light of the Covid-19 infection crisis.

March 23: The Canadian Olympic Committee says they will not send athletes to compete in Tokyo, preempting any decision from Shinzo Abe or the International Olympic Committee. For the first time, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe acknowledges that delaying the Tokyo Olympics may be necessary, though he insists that a complete cancellation is off the table. Tokyo passes Hokkaido as the prefecture with the largest number of confirmed infections and Governor Yuriko Koike says that she is prepared to put the entire Tokyo Metropolitan District under “lockdown” if the number of Covid-19 cases begins to expand significantly.

March 24: The Tokyo Olympics are postponed for up to a year. Governor Yuriko Koike says that it will still be called the Tokyo 2020 Olympics despite taking place in 2021.

March 25: Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike announces soft lockdown of the metropolitan district until April 14, calling for all large-scale public events not to be held during this period, as well as suspension of live music houses, restaurants, etc. Tokyo becomes the main center of Covid-19 spread in the nation. Some other prefectural governors of urban areas follow suit. Panic buying of food and other supplies sets in.

March 26: Medical experts advising the Ministry of Health judge that “there is a high risk of the spread” of Covid-19 infection in Japan in the coming weeks and months. The central government establishes a Covid-19 government policy headquarters directly under the chairmanship of Shinzo Abe, a step toward a declaration of national emergency. The Diamond Princess cruise ship leaves Yokohama.

March 27: The government moves to invalidate some 750,000 travel visas for travelers intending to come to Japan from eleven other nations. US Forces Japan confirms that a US sailor at Yokosuka base has tested positive for Covid-19, the first such case.

March 28: Newly confirmed Covid-19 in Tokyo show signs of spiking upward, with 63 cases identified on this day alone.

March 29: Ken Shimura, a famous comedian, dies of Covid-19 infection. He was the first major celebrity to fall victim and the event shook the nation. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declares, “We will draw up the boldest-ever package by using all policy tools, such as reducing or exempting tax payments and extending financial assistance.”

March 30: The Abe government and the International Olympic Committee reschedule the Olympics for July 23 to August 8, 2021. Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike urges live houses, bars, and other nightlife establishments to suspend operations, and for residents to stay home at night.

March 31: The Ministry of Health uses the mobile phone app Line to send out “The First National Survey on Novel Coronavirus Countermeasures.”

April

April 1: Japan Medical Association warns that there is a “medical crisis condition” in the nation, and in some regions there may be a shortage of hospital beds for Covid-19 patients, should the number of infections grow significantly.

April 2: The Abe government announces it will supply two washable face masks per household as part of its Covid-19 relief legislation. This initiative is being widely mocked on social media and elsewhere, again causing damage to the government’s reputation. The panel of experts advising the Abe government on Covid-19 warn that “drastic countermeasures need to be taken as quickly as possible” and that if the number of patients expands rapidly, the nation’s healthcare system faces potential “collapse.” Japan Medical Association’s Satoshi Kamayachi says that “most members” of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s panel of medical advisors believes he should declare a “state of emergency” and they worry that political leadership will be coming too late to avert the mass epidemic.

April 3: The government begins enforcing a de facto shutdown of all travel into Japan. Anyone coming from anywhere else in the world is required to go into quarantine for two weeks. This includes both Japanese and foreign nationals. US Embassy sends stark warning to its nationals: “If US citizens wish to return to the United States, they should make arrangements to do so now… unless they are prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period.”

April 4: The number of newly discovered Covid-19 cases in the Tokyo Metropolitan District alone crosses the 100 mark for the first time. Immigration Services Agency extends deadline for three months for foreigners to renew their period of stay, applicable to those whose current status will expire between March and June, as a result of a rush on immigration offices. The Nippon Foundation announces it will be establishing 1,200 beds for Covid-19 patients in Odaiba, making use of a gym meant for the Paralympics and the parking lot of the Museum of Maritime Science, at which nine large tents with climate control will be erected.

April 6: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announces his intention to declare a state of emergency the following day, and that the Covid-19 emergency financial package will be in the amount of ¥108 trillion (US$1 trillion), or about 20% of the national GDP. US Forces Japan declare a “public health emergency for the Kanto plains region.” The National Tax Agency indicates that the annual tax filing deadline will not be strictly enforced.

April 7: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe makes a state of emergency declaration, effective at midnight, for seven prefectures: Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama, Chiba, Osaka, Hyogo, and Fukuoka. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government, which was expected to follow up with specific requests for business sectors to suspend operations, is prevented from doing so by the Abe government, which is worried that Governor Yuriko Koike’s approach is too sweeping and will do unnecessary economic damage. Confusion regarding the intended scope of the closures ensues.

April 9: Emergency medicine groups issue statement pointing to potential “collapse” of the medical system due to Covid-19, including many clinics turning away suspected coronavirus cases, lack of equipment, slow rate of testing, staff illness, etc.

April 10: Having received permission from the Abe government, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike declares the business and organization categories subject to closure requests: entertainment facilities, universities and schools, amusement facilities, gathering and exhibition facilities, and commercial facilities. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government announces that it will provide a one-time payment of ¥500,000 to small businesses forced to suspend operations due to the state of emergency. Aichi Governor Hideaki Omura defies the national government and issues his own state of emergency declaration for his prefecture. Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, spearheading the central government’s implementation efforts, declares that infection “has not yet reached the stage of rapid growth” in Aichi, Kyoto, and Gifu prefectures, and therefore he rejects their petitions to come under “state of emergency” legal status.

April 12: Hokkaido Governor Naomichi Suzuki and Sapporo Mayor Katsuhiro Akimoto agree to declare a renewed “state of emergency” outside of the framework of the national government’s “state of emergency.” It is  be effective from April 14 to May 6. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe posts a stay-at-home video on Twitter that is widely mocked for giving the impression of complacency.

April 13: Ishikawa Governor Masanori Tanimoto announces a “state of emergency” outside of the framework of the national government’s “state of emergency “to last until May 6. Osaka, Fukuoka, and Hyogo prefectures request some business operation suspensions under the state of emergency.

April 15: US Forces Japan, which issued a Covid-19 public health emergency on April 6 for the Kanto plain area, have now extended their warning to all of Japan. Health Ministry connected experts led by Hokkaido University Professor Hiroshi Nishiura have projected that if Covid-19 rages out of control in Japan, it could lead to 850,000 seriously ill patients of which about half may die; a potential death toll over 400,000 people.

April 16: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announces that the national “state of emergency” now covers the entire nation, not just the seven original prefectures. The ending date for the emergency period remains unchanged at May 6. Abe announces that the ¥100,000 payment to all “citizens” will be his government’s policy instead of the proposed ¥300,000 payment to households that suffer a major drop in income as a result of the Covid-19 crisis.

April 17: The number of confirmed Covid-19 infections in Japan crosses the 10,000 mark. A construction worker building the controversial US Marine air base at Henoko is confirmed to have Covid-19, leading to a suspension in construction activities.

April 18: Japan’s major general contractors announcing that they will be suspending construction projects for several weeks across the nation as a result of the “state of emergency” declaration.

April 19: The Abe government relents to demands from prefectural governors and reveals that it will divert some funds to the prefectures to allow them to provide financial aid to small businesses that comply with “state of emergency” suspension of operations requests.

April 20: Economic Revitalization Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura says that the government has secured 210,000 hotel rooms nationwide to house Covid-19 patients with no symptoms or weak symptoms.

April 21: Economic Revitalization Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura has singled out pachinko parlors as a class of businesses where there have been many cases of defiance of business suspension requests. Two million face masks donated by Taiwan to Japan have arrive at Narita Airport, earmarked for delivery to hospitals and schools. Japanese and Taiwanese diplomats gather at the airport for the arrival.

April 22: Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly approves Governor Yuriko Koike’s plan to offer up to ¥500,000 in Covid-19 aid to small businesses with one outlet; double that amount for those with multiple outlets.

April 23: National Governors’ Association proposes drastic measures to stop people from traveling during the Golden Week holidays, including the possibility of restrictions on the use of national highways. Human Rights Watch sends letter to Justice Minister Masako Mori: “The Japanese government should significantly reduce the population of jails, prisons, and other detention centers where the risk of Covid-19 spreading is high.” Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike urges the residents of the metropolis to limit their visits to the market to once in three days as a way to reduce crowding in the shopping aisles.

April 24: Japan reclaims its position as the No. 2 coronavirus hotspot in East Asia as the number of confirmed infections again passes that of South Korea.

April 25: Osaka Prefecture publishes the names of six pachinko parlors that are defying closure requests, making the first use of a new legal provision meant to name and shame uncooperative businesses.

April 27: Japan expands its outright ban on entry to a further fourteen nations, including neighbor Russia. There are now 87 nations and regions from which Japan is no longer accepts travelers. Ishikawa Governor Masanori Tanimoto makes first call for the deployment of the Self-Defense Forces in relation to the Covid-19 crisis. He requests their support for the transportation of lodging facilities.

April 28: Five opposition parties jointly submit a bill that calls for struggling businesses to gain support in paying their rent during the coronavirus crisis. Economic Revitalization Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura suggests that if pachinko parlors remain defiant of their governors, then it may be time to move forward with legislation that hits these businesses with harsher penalties than the current name and shame policy.

April 29: National Governors’ Association advises the Abe government to extend the national “state of emergency” beyond May 6, and it also recommends serious consideration of starting the school year in September.

April 30: The National Diet passes the ¥25.7 trillion (US$242 billion) Covid-19 supplementary budget, which pays for the ¥100,000 per person relief payment and other measures, including zero-interest loans to affected businesses.

May

May 3: The Abe government decides to extend the Covid-19 state of emergency until May 31, less than one month, but signals that business and facility restrictions will gradually be reduced. 

May 7: The Abe government signals that they may lift the state of emergency before May 31 if they feel that an early move is warranted by the Covid-19 infection figures. An end to the state of emergency on May 21 is floated as a possibility.

May 8: Economic Revitalization Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura suggests that lifting the state of emergency may come in a piecemeal fashion, with some prefectures first and others later. May 14 mulled a major possibility for the first move. The Abe government approves Remdesivir, a drug produced by Gilead Sciences of the United States, as its first Covid-19 treatment, after a nearly non-existent screening process.

May 12: Immigration Services Agency announces it will give automatic three-month extensions to those whose work visas expire in July. This was previously the case for those with March, April, May, and June expiration dates.

May 14: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announces the lifting of the state of emergency for 39 of Japan’s 47 prefectures. The emergency remains in place for Chiba, Hokkaido, Hyogo, Kanagawa, Kyoto, Osaka, Saitama, and Tokyo.

May 16: The Abe government joins calls for an investigation of the World Health Organization’s initial response to the Covid-19 crisis. Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi suggests that WHO cannot be trusted to investigate Covid-19’s origins because it is not “an independent body.” Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games CEO Toshiro Muto admits that the Olympics may not be “conventional,” an acknowledgment that even the one year delay may not have solved all the problems for the 2020 Olympics.

May 21: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe lifts the state of emergency for Osaka, Kyoto, and Hyogo prefectures.

May 25: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe formally declares an end to Japan’s Covid-19 state of emergency, asserting that some kind of “Japan model” had been successful in defeating the infection.

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