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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 actually occurred the calendar date previous to how they are recorded on this timeline.

January 2020

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 2020

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 2020

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 confirmed 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. Chubu Centrair International Airport suspends international flights.

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 2020

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 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 8: The total daily number of new Covid-19 cases reported across Japan exceeds the 500 level for the first time. The number of officially confirmed Covid-19 cases in Japan since the beginning of the pandemic passes the 5,000 mark.

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: The number of active Covid-19 cases crosses the 5,000 mark for the first time. 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 11: The 701 new Covid-19 cases recorded represent the peak of the pandemic’s first wave in Japan by this measure.

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 officially confirmed Covid-19 cases in Japan since the beginning of the pandemic passes 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: The number of active Covid-19 cases crosses the 10,000 mark for the first time.

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 26: The 10,281 active cases recorded on this day represent the peak of the pandemic’s first wave in Japan by this measure.

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 2020

May 1: The 29 Covid-19 related deaths recorded on this day represent the peak of the pandemic’s first wave in Japan by this measure, and it is also the day that officially confirmed deaths cross the 500 mark. The number of active Covid-19 cases falls below the 10,000 mark.

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. The number of active Covid-19 cases falls below the 5,000 mark.

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.

May 28: Several dozen new Covid-19 cases emerge in Kitakyushu as the overall number of confirmed cases stops declining.

June 2020

June 1: Osaka Prefecture returns to a fully open policy for all local businesses. In Tokyo, movie theaters, gyms, department stores, and many other businesses are in principle allowed to reopen. Also, gatherings of fewer than 100 people (indoors) and 200 people (outdoors) are also officially permitted.

June 2: Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike declares a “Tokyo Alert” in response to spikes in the number of newly confirmed Covid-19 cases, especially in the Shinjuku nightlife district.

June 4: Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso explains that the number of Covid-19 deaths in Japan is comparatively lower than those in Europe because “the level of our people is different.”

June 8: The 21 new Covid-19 cases recorded on this day represent the lowest mark between the first and second waves of Covid-19 by this measure.

June 11: Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike lifts the “Tokyo Alert,” suggesting greater confidence in managing the spread of the coronavirus.

June 12: The number of active Covid-19 cases falls below the 1,000 mark.

June 13: Karaoke shops in Tokyo are allowed to reopen, though the wearing of face masks, face shields, and other coronavirus anti-infection measures are instituted.

June 15: Abe government declares that, with a handful of exceptions, the process of distribution two Abenomasks to each household in Japan has been completed, three weeks after the Covid-19 state of emergency has been declared over.

June 16: Chubu Centrair International Airport resume international flights, beginning with service to Manila.

June 18: Events with up to 1,000 people in attendance permitted and all restrictions on moving between prefectures, never enforced, are also officially lifted.

June 19: Health Ministry launches a free coronavirus contact-tracing smartphone app called COCOA (Contact-Confirming Application).

June 20: The 683 active Covid-19 cases recorded on this day represent the lowest mark between the first and second waves of Covid-19 by this measure.

June 23: Michael Mroczek, president of the European Business Council in Japan, warns that international businesses may move their Asia headquarters out of Japan if Covid-19 related policies such as blocking long-term and permanent foreign residents from reentry are maintained.

June 24: Tokyo Metropolitan District records 55 new cases of Covid-19, breaking the 50 mark for the first time since the end of the emergency. However, there is no new policy reaction as there was supposed to be when new cases reached this level.

June 25: Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura announces that the panel of medical experts advising the Abe government on Covid-19 measures is to be disbanded and replaced by a new subcommittee mixing medical experts with local government people and crisis management experts. A flight of businesspeople to Vietnam represents first, cautious reopening of air travel.

June 27: The total daily number of new Covid-19 cases reported across Japan exceeds the 100 level for the first time since the end of the emergency. Health Ministry announces that COCOA, its coronavirus contact-tracing smartphone app, was downloaded about 4 million times in its first week of availability, though its rollout is marred by some technical glitches.

June 29: Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga confirms what had already become apparent: the rising numbers of new Covid-19 cases will not going to result in the government re-instituting any emergency measures. Saitama Governor Motohiro Ono calls on residents of his prefecture to avoid going to restaurants in the Tokyo Metropolitan District and to patronize local restaurants instead.

June 30: The number of active Covid-19 cases rises back above the 1,000 mark.

July 2020

July 2: Tokyo Metropolitan District records 107 new cases of Covid-19, breaking the 100 mark for the first time since the end of the emergency.

July 3: Health Minister Katsunobu Kato says that Covid-19 testing centers to be established near Narita, Haneda, and Kansai airports. They will likely be privately operated but with a lot of government support.

July 4: The number of officially confirmed Covid-19 cases in Japan since the beginning of the pandemic passes the 20,000 mark. Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike asks residents not to leave the Tokyo Metropolitan District, so as not to spread the infection once again around the country. This is the first public behavior restriction request from the governor since the start of what is now clearly Japan’s Covid-19 second wave. However, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declares that there is “no need” to declare a renewed Covid-19 state of emergency.

July 7: Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike says she will establish a Tokyo version of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to create long-term policies to deal with the coronavirus. The American Chamber of Commerce in Japan issues a protest letter expressing concerns regarding Japan’s immigration authorities’ limitations on the entry of non-Japanese nationals residing in Japan during the Covid-19 crisis.

July 8: US Marines admit that there are “several” Covid-19 cases at Futenma base in Okinawa. They refuse to disclose details.

July 9: Tokyo Metropolitan District records 224 new cases of Covid-19, exceeding the single-day number of the peak of the first wave.

July 10: Undeterred by the rising number of infections, the Abe government eases restrictions further, allowing events to be held with up to 5,000 people in attendance.

July 11: US military bases in Japan are locked down again over Covid-19 concerns. Fujita Health University study finds that the drug Avigan, promoted nationally and internationally by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe against the advice of his own experts, in fact has no “statistically significant” impact on treating Covid-19 patients. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga states, “It is by no means overstating things to say that this problem is unequivocally a Tokyo problem. This is a problem centered entirely in Tokyo.”

July 12: US Marines in Okinawa confirm that Covid-19 has gotten out of control on their bases: 61 new coronavirus cases diagnosed at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma and Camp Hansen. The Covid-19 second wave also appearing in Osaka. According to the strictly numerical “Osaka model” warning system, the 32 new cases recorded in the prefecture trigger a “yellow light” for the reemergence of the pandemic. The Osaka Prefectural Government requests residents not to visit nightlife entertainment districts for the rest of the month.

July 13: Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan leader Yukio Edano calls for the government to reinstitute state of emergency measures to combat the spread of Covid-19. He criticizes the “political inaction” of the Abe government in the face of rising numbers of infections.

July 14: The Abe government confirms its intention to launch the “Go To Travel” tourism promotion campaign, prompting a strong negative reaction from much of the Japanese public. Yamagata Governor Mieko Yoshimura responds: “With the coronavirus situation in the capital region and heavy rain disaster, is this really the time to start such a campaign?”

July 15: Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike issues a “Level 4” coronavirus warning, the successor to the now-defunct “Tokyo Alert” system, but its practical policy implications are unclear.

July 16: The total daily number of new Covid-19 cases reported across Japan exceeds the 500 level for the first time since the end of the emergency. As a partial concession to widespread criticism, the Abe government states that it will launch the “Go To Travel” tourism promotion campaign, but make trips to and from Tokyo ineligible for the program.

July 18: Defense Minister Taro Kono requests that the US military conduct Covid-19 tests on all of its personnel coming to Japan.

July 20: The official number of Covid-19 deaths in Japan since the beginning of the pandemic crosses the 1,000 mark.

July 21: The number of active Covid-19 cases rises back above the 5,000 mark.

July 22: The total daily number of new Covid-19 cases reported across Japan reaches 796, exceeding the peak of the first wave to become the highest number recorded since the pandemic began. Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike warns residents to avoid going out of their homes for the coming holiday weekend: “The number of coronavirus patients with severe symptoms is increasing. It is especially important for elderly people and those having preexisting conditions to refrain from going out.” The Abe government indicates that it does not support Koike’s warning. US Forces Japan, after heavy pressure from the Defense Ministry and the media, begin releasing some data regarding active Covid-19 cases on US military bases in Japan. The Health Ministry approves Dexamethasone, a steroid, as a possible treatment for Covid-19 infection. This is only the second anti-Covid drug approved for use in Japan following Remdesivir.

July 23: The Abe government signals that it will begin letting foreigners who are Japan permanent residents back into the country, though the policy changes will take place “gradually.” Some types of residents will be allowed back sooner than others.

July 25: The number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Japan since the beginning of the pandemic crosses the 30,000 mark.

July 29: More than 1,000 new Covid-19 cases recorded in Japan in a single day. Iwate Prefecture records its first cases, which was the last of Japan’s 47 prefectures not to have any recorded coronavirus infections. Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan leader Yukio Edano says that if he had been prime minister at this time, he would have already declared a second “state of emergency” period. The Osaka Prefectural Government asks residents to put a limit of five people participating in a single drinking party.

July 30: Shigeru Omi, leading medical official of the government’s Covid-19 advisory panel, reveals in the Diet that he had advised to Abe government to delay its “Go To Travel” campaign, but his expert advice was dismissed and Abe’s team stubbornly moved forward anyway. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga repeats once again that the government has no intention of declaring a “state of emergency” over Covid-19, in spite of the fact that the daily confirmed new case totals are now well above the April peak of the first wave. Tokyo Medical Association chief Haruo Ozaki appeals to the Abe government to start taking the Covid-19 second wave seriously, asserting that this is the last chance to prevent a great tragedy from occurring.

July 31: The number of active cases climbs back above the 10,000 level, exceeding the April-May first wave. Deaths, however, remain much lower than in the April-May period. Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki announces that he will declare his own prefectural “state of emergency” to last from August 1 to August 15 as new Covid-19 cases accelerate, in part believed to be driven by the US Marine bases. Health Ministry survey finds few if any “excess deaths” in the January-April period. Reported that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pushed the Health Ministry’s top medical technician, Yasuhiro Suzuki, out of his government job because he refused Abe’s demand to approve the drug Avigan for use.

August 2020

August 3: The number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Japan since the beginning of the pandemic crosses the 40,000 mark. JNN poll finds the result that the Japanese public does not approve of the Abe government’s do-nothing policy on Covid-19. Only 26% give the government high marks for coronavirus policy, while more than double, 61%, think the issue in being mishandled. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga indicates that the Abe government will not be asking the public to refrain from traveling around the nation during the four-day Obon holiday. “We are just asking them to be very cautious,” he says. Teikoku Databank reports that the number of Japanese companies that have gone bankrupt as a direct result of the Covid-19 crisis now exceeds 400 firms. Restaurants, hotels, and fashion outlets appear to be hardest hit.

August 4: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks on the Covid-19 crisis: “We’re staying on alert while closely watching the situations in Osaka and Okinawa, as well as in Tokyo. We’ll proceed with balancing social and economic activities.”

August 5: Aichi Governor Hideaki Omura becomes the second leader of a prefecture to openly break ranks with the Abe government. He declares a renewed Covid-19 “state of emergency” to run from August 6 to 24. 

August 6: Taiwan reimposes a fourteen-day mandatory Covid-19 quarantine on visitors from Japan. For over a month the quarantine had been reduced to seven days.

August 7: Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, while not declaring a Covid-19 state of emergency like some other governors, directly contradicts the Abe government message on Obon holiday period travel: “I’d like people to interact with their family over the phone or online.” Despite its declaration of a state of emergency a week earlier, Okinawa Prefecture records its first day with more than 100 new Covid-19 infections.

August 8: Health Ministry survey finds that more than 85% of hospital beds in Okinawa Prefecture are now occupied as the number of Covid-19 patients expands. However, only 20% of the prefecture’s critical care beds are currently occupied. Other prefectures have lower rates.

August 9: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe finally verbalizes in public the view that his inaction had long made clear: “Given its impact on employment and daily lives, we must make efforts to avoid [a state of emergency declaration] as much as possible.” Okinawa Prefecture reports 159 new Covid-19 cases, smashing beyond the total 1,000 total cases level and confirming that, on a per capita basis, this is now the epicenter of Japan’s pandemic. It’s also where most of the US Marines spread the infection on the bases. Tokyo Regional Immigration Services Bureau admits that a foreigner in detention has tested positive for Covid-19. As he had been in detention since June 2019, there’s no doubt he acquired it inside the facility.

August 11: The number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Japan since the beginning of the pandemic crosses the 50,000 mark.

August 13: Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki extends his prefecture’s Covid-19 state of emergency to August 29. 

August 17: Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki has asked the national government to have about fifty nurses deploy to his prefecture in order to make up for a local shortage of nurses.

August 19: American Chamber of Commerce in Japan, Australian and New Zealand Chamber of Commerce in Japan, British Chamber of Commerce in Japan, and European Business Council issue a new joint statement on Japan blocking return of foreign residents. The central government agrees to Okinawa’s request to send nurses from the main islands to help it deal with its Covid-19 crisis. Beginning with ten nurses, the total number to be deployed is meant to eventually reach fifty.

August 21: The number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Japan since the beginning of the pandemic crosses the 60,000 mark. There have been more than 1,170 deaths attributed to the coronavirus.

August 25: Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga says that more than 2 million people have made use of “Go To Travel” subsidies since the program was launched on July 22. He also says that there may have been up to ten Covid-19 cases related to people using the program.

August 26: The government reports that 98.6% of households in Japan received the ¥100,000 yen (US$940) Covid-19 relief payment.

August 28: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announces his intention to resign, citing personal illness, though his mishandling of the Covid-19 crisis one of the factors. Stung by escalating international criticism, the Japanese government announces that it will lift its ban on permanent and long-term foreign residents from returning to Japan, effective September 1. Governor Denny Tamaki extends Okinawa Prefecture’s Covid-19 state of emergency until September 5.

September 2020

September 2: The number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Japan since the beginning of the pandemic crosses the 70,000 mark.

September 3: Reported that if and when a Covid-19 vaccine is found and produced, the Japanese government may offer it to all residents free of charge.

September 5: Tokyo Olympics CEO Toshiro Muto declares that the discovery of a Covid-19 vaccine is not a prerequisite for the Olympics to be held in 2021.

September 8: Japan government expands list of countries from which travelers face eased Covid-19 entry restrictions. The complete list is now Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam. Households that applied for and received the 100,000 yen Covid-19 relief payment has now crossed the 99.5% threshold.

September 11: Tourism Minister announces that residents of Tokyo to be included in the “Go To Travel” subsidy campaign from October 1.

September 16: Yoshihide Suga becomes prime minister of Japan.

September 19: The Suga government, which has renewed determination to hold the Olympics, decides to create a system whereby Olympic athletes will be exempted from Covid-19 entry bans. Shuichi Takatori, caretaker leader of the ruling party’s far right Conservative Solidarity Association, becomes the first Japanese lawmaker confirmed to have Covid-19. Shinji Inoue, minister in charge of the 2025 World Expo, self-quarantines at his home as he had been in contact with Takatori.

September 21: The number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Japan since the beginning of the pandemic crosses the 80,000 mark. Shinji Inoue, minister in charge of the 2025 World Expo in Osaka, ends his self-quarantine after testing negative for Covid-19.

September 25: The government announces that it will reopen borders for all foreign visitors with permits to stay in the country, including students and business people, but excluding tourists, from October 1.

September 30: Government admits that up to 29 people who used the “Go To Travel” subsidy program are confirmed to have caught Covid-19, possibly due to their trips.

October 2020

October 1: The Tokyo Center for Infectious Disease Control and Prevention (iCDC) is established, as promised by Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike. At the outset, Tokyo’s version of the CDC has a staff of about 80 officials.

October 4: Reported that, as a pillar of its policy of accepting Olympics tourists, the Suga government is planning to establish “Fever Health Counseling Support Centers” for the foreign tourists to visit should they suspect that they have contracted Covid-19. The Suga government also preparing a Covid-19 screening service for foreign tourists requiring them to test negative before they board an airplane entering Japan and also to pass a Covid-19 test when they arrive.

October 6: Malaysian budget airline AirAsia pulls out of the Japanese market, convinced that it has no chance to regain profitability due to the slow recovery of passenger traffic during the Covid-19 pandemic.

October 7: Japan and South Korea resume bilateral business travel. Short-term business travelers not required to observe fourteen-day isolation periods if they test negative for Covid-19 and submit their travel itineraries in advance.

October 8: Tokyo Shoko Research says that the number of businesses in Japan that have been forced into bankruptcy specifically because of Covid-19 has reached 600.

October 11: The number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Japan since the beginning of the pandemic crosses the 90,000 mark.

October 29: The number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Japan since the beginning of the pandemic crosses the 100,000 mark.

November 2020

November 1: Japan lifts its entry ban on foreign non-tourist travelers from an expanded list of countries: Australia, Brunei, China, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam.

November 22: The confirmed Covid-19 death toll in Japan crosses the 2,000 mark.

November 24: Sapporo and Osaka “temporarily” removed as destinations from the “Go To Travel” campaign in light of growing case numbers.

November 25: As the Covid-19 third wave begins to take shape, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike urges restaurants, bars, and shops to close for business each day before 10pm.

November 30: US Marines in Okinawa report and single-day record 72 infections.

December 2020

December 2: Legislation enacted to make Covid-19 vaccines free for all residents of Japan.

December 18: Pfizer becomes first Covid-19 vaccine maker to file for approval for use in Japan.

December 21: The number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Japan since the beginning of the pandemic crosses the 200,000 mark.

December 22: The confirmed Covid-19 death toll in Japan crosses the 3,000 mark.

December 27: Lawmaker Yuichiro Hata dies from a Covid-19 infection.

December 28: The “Go To Travel” tourism promotion program is cancelled after a chorus of accusations that it helped the Covid-19 third wave take hold in Japan.

December 30: US Forces Japan begin Covid-19 vaccinations on US military bases.

December 31: Yasutoshi Nishimura, minister in charge of coronavirus response, warns that further spread of the Covid-19 pandemic could lead to medical care “becoming unavailable.”

January 2021

January 2: As case numbers of the third wave soar to record figures, the governors of Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba, and Saitama hold a joint press conference to ask the Suga government to declare a new state of emergency over the Covid-19 pandemic.

January 8: Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declares a second state of emergency for Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba, and Saitama prefectures, scheduled to end on February 7. Japan tightens its entry policies even further, requiring negative results from coronavirus tests taken within 72 hours of departure for all new entries.

January 9: The death toll from the Covid-19 pandemic in Japan crosses the 4,000 mark.

January 13: Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga expands state of emergency to a total of eleven prefectures: Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba, Saitama, Tochigi, Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo, Aichi, Gifu, and Fukuoka. Moreover, the foreign business traveler schemes that had been reached with eleven nations, including China and South Korea, are also terminated as an emergency measure.

January 14: The total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Japan since the pandemic began reaches the 300,000 mark. Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura declares that foreign residents of Japan who breach the fourteen-day quarantine rule may have their resident status revoked and be subject to deportation.

January 18: Taro Kono appointed minister in charge of managing the Covid-19 vaccine distribution.

January 19: For the first time, Covid-19 took the lives of more than one hundred people in Japan in a single day.

January 20: Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki has declares another local state of emergency in his prefecture, set to last until February 7.

January 24: Japan’s confirmed death toll since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic crosses the 5,000 mark.

January 29: Sydney-based Lowy Institute ranks Japan 45th out of surveyed 98 countries for the quality of its response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

February 2021

February 2: The Suga government announces an extension of the Covid-19 state of emergency period in major urban areas for an additional month until March 7, although Tochigi Prefecture to be removed from the applicable areas.

February 3: The confirmed Covid-19 death toll in Japan crosses the 6,000 mark.

February 4: Legal revisions enacted which allow the government to impose punishments on those who defy official Covid-19 restrictions. The most severe punishment is a fine of up to ¥500,000 (US$4,750).

February 5: The number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Japan since the beginning of the pandemic crosses the 400,000 mark.

February 9: Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga cites discredited race science in Diet debate: “differences among races are expected regarding vaccines, so there need to be certain clinical trials targeting Japanese people and not just a reliance solely on clinical trial data from the US and Europe.”

February 15: The confirmed Covid-19 death toll in Japan crosses the 7,000 mark. The Covid-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer becomes the first approved for use by the Japanese government.

February 17: Covid-19 vaccinations begin in Japan, with frontline healthcare workers receiving the first shots.

February 22: Vaccines Minister Taro Kono declares that he does not support the idea of issuing Covid-19 vaccination certificates. He suggests that a system that might prevent unvaccinated people from doing things would not be accepted, and wouldn’t prevent infections in any case.

February 26: Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga says that the first Covid-19 vaccinations of the nation’s elderly to begin on April 12, though the rollout may be somewhat slow in the early weeks after that date.

February 28: State of emergency ended for Aichi, Gifu, Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo, and Fukuoka prefectures, leaving only Tokyo and its surrounding prefectures on track for the planned March 7 lifting of the emergency. 

March 2021

March 2: The confirmed Covid-19 death toll in Japan crosses the 8,000 mark.

March 5: The government confirms that the Tokyo-area state of emergency will be extended until March 21. 

March 10: National Institute of Infectious Diseases says that hundreds of people in Japan have become infected with a new Covid variant which is not the UK, Brazil, or South Africa variant, and whose origins and characteristics not yet understood.

March 12: Transport Ministry orders airlines to cap the number of people they bring to Japan. Each international airline is given a cap of 3,400 inbound passengers per week.

March 17: Miyagi Governor Yoshihiro Murai declares a local “state of emergency” for his northern prefecture as Covid-19 case numbers accelerate.

March 18: Osaka Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura confirms that a Covid variant has killed a local woman in his prefecture. This is the first known case of a Covid variant resulting in a fatality in Japan.

March 21: Shigeru Omi, head of the government’s Covid subcommittee, says that there’s little hope the pandemic will end in 2021. “It is likely people will have gradually come to see the coronavirus the way they do seasonal influenza,” he predicts.

March 22: The second national state of emergency period declared to have ended. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declares, “We’ll remain alert for coronavirus variants and we aim to prevent a rebound of infections without lowering our guard.”

March 23: Tokyo-based restaurant chain operator Global Dining sues the Tokyo Metropolitan Government over its orders to restaurants that they reduce business hours in the face of the pandemic. The company claims the orders were “illegal and unconstitutional.”

March 26: The confirmed Covid-19 death toll in Japan crosses the 9,000 mark.

April 2021

April 1: Osaka Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura expresses alarm as his prefecture, not Tokyo, emerges as the largest center for new Covid infections, apparently driven in large part to variant strains of the coronavirus.

April 3: The Health Ministry indicates it will relax the regulation that all confirmed Covid patients must be hospitalized. A vaccine concerns hotline is established serving foreign language speakers.

April 5: Osaka, Hyogo, and Miyagi governors given powers to set mandatory Covid restrictions in their prefectures, for the first time including possibility of hitting businesses with fines if they fail to comply. These powers set to expire on May 5.


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