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Tokyo reports 854 new coronavirus cases

Tokyo reports 854 new coronavirus cases

15-May-2021 Intellasia |
JapanTimes |
5:02 AM

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Tokyo reported 854 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday after seeing a figure above 900 for three consecutive days.

The government Friday presented a plan to place Hokkaido, Okayama and Hiroshima prefectures under a coronavirus state of emergency from Sunday to May 31.

The seven-day average of new infections in Tokyo came to 926.3, compared to 766.4 a week before.

Among the new cases, those in people age 65 or older accounted for 85. The number of COVID-19 patients in Tokyo considered to be seriously ill under the metropolitan government’s criteria came to 84, unchanged from Thursday.

On Thursday, Hokkaido logged a record 712 new coronavirus cases, up sharply from its previous daily record of 529 new cases, set the previous day.

Of Thursday’s total, 499 cases were confirmed in the prefectural capital of Sapporo, renewing the city’s record high.

The nationwide tally of new coronavirus cases came to 6,879 on the day, including 761 in Osaka Prefecture.

Across the country, the ongoing number of people severely ill with the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 climbed 25 from the previous day to another record high of 1,214. Meanwhile, 101 new deaths were reported among infected people.

Hokkaido’s daily count started to increase rapidly earlier this month, topping 500 for the first time on Sunday.

A panel of experts appointed by the health ministry warned on Wednesday that infection is expected to spread further in Hokkaido, while daily new cases are on the decline in the Kansai western region.

In Kanagawa Prefecture, south of Tokyo, the prefectural government announced on Thursday that a man in his 50s who returned from India last month has tested positive for the Indian variant of the coronavirus.

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/05/14/national/tokyo-cases-may-14/

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Too cold to handle? Race is on to pioneer shipping of hydrogen.

Too cold to handle? Race is on to pioneer shipping of hydrogen.

15-May-2021 Intellasia |
Reuters |
5:02 AM

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Hydrogen is touted as an inevitable green fuel of the future. Tell that to the people who’ll have to ship it across the globe at hyper-cold temperatures close to those in outer space.

Yet that is exactly what designers are attempting to do.

In the biggest technological challenge for merchant shipping in decades, companies are beginning to develop a new generation of vessels that can deliver hydrogen to heavy industry, betting plants worldwide will convert to the fuel and propel the transition to a lower-carbon economy.

There are at least three projects developing pilot ships that will be ready to test transporting the fuel in Europe and Asia within the next three years, the companies involved told Reuters.

The major challenge is to keep the hydrogen chilled at minus 253 degrees Celsius only 20 degrees above absolute zero, the coldest possible temperature so it stays in liquid form, while avoiding the risk that parts of a vessel could crack.

That’s almost 100 degrees Celsius colder than temperatures needed to transport liquefied natural gas (LNG), which required its own shipping revolution about 60 years ago.

Japan’s Kawasaki Heavy Industries (7012.T) has already built the world’s first ship to transport hydrogen, Suiso Frontier. It told Reuters the prototype vessel was undergoing sea trials, with a demonstration maiden voyage of some 9,000 km from Australia to Japan expected in coming months.

“There is the next phase of the project already running to build a commercial-scale hydrogen carrier by the mid-2020s, with an aim to go commercial in 2030,” said Motohiko Nishimura, Kawasaki’s vice executive officer.

The 1,250 cubic-metre tank to hold the hydrogen is double-shelled and vacuum-insulated to help maintain the temperature.

Kawasaki’s prototype, a relatively modest 116 metres long and 8,000 gross tonnes, will run on diesel on its maiden voyage but the company aims to use hydrogen to power future, larger commercial vessels, Nishimura said.

SUPER-STRENGTH STEEL

In South Korea, one of the world’s major shipbuilding hubs, another project is in the works.

Korea Shipbuilding & Offshore Engineering (009540.KS) is the first company in the country working on building a commercial liquefied hydrogen carrier, a company spokesperson said.

To tackle the hyper-cold challenge, the company said it was working with a steelmaker to develop high-strength steel and new welding technology, along with enhanced insulation, to contain the hydrogen and mitigate the risks of pipes or tanks cracking.

On the other side of the world, in Norway, efforts are also underway to build a hydrogen supply chain on the west coast of the country, with one group looking to pilot a test ship that could transport hydrogen to planned filling stations, which would be able to service ships as well as trucks and buses.

Norwegian shipping company Wilhelmsen Group is working on the latter project with partners to build a “roll-on/roll-off” ship that will be able to transport liquid hydrogen by way of containers or trailers that are driven onboard, said Per Brinchmann, the company’s vice president, special projects.

The ship is expected to be operational in the first half of 2024, he added.

“We believe once we have this demonstration vessel operational the intention will be to build up bunkering hubs on the west coast (of Norway),” Brinchmann said, referring to the filling stations.

Other companies are exploring a different route to avoid the cold conundrum and what may happen when hydrogen atoms interact with metal.

Canada’s Ballard Power Systems and Australia’s Global Energy Ventures, for example, are working together to develop a ship to transport compressed hydrogen in gas form.

“The earliest timeframe would be 2025/26,” said Nicolas Pocard, vice president marketing and strategic partnerships with Ballard.

The advantage of this gas approach is that it does not require any extreme temperatures. But the downside is that less hydrogen can be transported in a cargo than liquid hydrogen, which is why some of the early movers are opting for the latter.

Wilhelmsen’s Brinchmann said that a 40-foot container would carry about 800-1,000 kilogram of pressurised hydrogen gas, but up to 3,000 kilogram of liquid hydrogen.

COMPLEX AND COSTLY

Such endeavours are far from risk free.

They are expensive, for a start; none of the companies would comment on the cost of their vessels, though three industry specialists told Reuters that such ships would cost more than vessels carrying LNG, which can run to $50-$240 million each depending on size.

“The cost of a vessel transporting hydrogen will mainly be driven by the cost of the storage system. Storing liquid hydrogen could be very expensive because of its complexity,” Carlo Raucci, marine decarbonisation consultant with ship certifier LR, added separately.

The pilot projects, which are still in experimental stages, must overcome these technical challenges, and also rely on hydrogen catching on as a widely used fuel in coming years.

None of this is certain, though the state support being thrown behind this cleaner-burning fuel suggests it does have a future in the global energy mix.

More than 30 countries, including several in Europe such as France and Germany as well the likes of South Korea and Australia, have released hydrogen rollout plans. read more

Total planned investments could reach over $300 billion through to 2030 if hundreds of projects using the fuel come to fruition, according to a recent report by the Hydrogen Council association and consultants McKinsey.

The role of shipping would be important to unlocking the potential to convert industries such as steel and cement to hydrogen.

Those two heavy-industry sectors alone are estimated to produce over 10 percent of global CO2 emissions, and overcoming their need for fossil fuels is one of the key challenges of the global transition to a lower-carbon economy.

FASTER THAN LNG?

Tiago Braz, VP energy with Norwegian marine technology developer Hoglund, said the company was working with steel specialists and tank designers on engineering a ship cargo system that can be used for transporting liquid hydrogen.

“We are at the early stages with hydrogen carriers. But unlike when LNG was first rolled out, the industry is more flexible to change,” Braz said.

“It should be a faster transition,” he added.

Specialists say the development of LNG took decades before it was fully rolled out, partly due to the infrastructure and ships required and the few companies willing to invest initially.

Companies active in wider shipping markets are also looking at the possibility of diversifying into transporting hydrogen in the future.

Paul Wogan, chief executive of GasLog Partners (GLOP.N) which is a major player in LNG shipping, said it was “open-minded” about moving into hydrogen, while oil tanker owner Euronav (EUAV.BR) said it was examining future energy transportation.

“If that energy is hydrogen tomorrow, we would certainly like to play a role in the emerging industry,” Euronav’s CEO Hugo De Stoop said.

Others such as leading ship-management company Maersk Tankers said they would be open to managing hydrogen shipping assets.

Johan Petter Tutturen, business director for gas carriers with ship certifier DNV Maritime, said his company was involved in concept studies for the transport of hydrogen in bulk at sea.

“It’ll be some years before these projects come to fruition, but if hydrogen is to be a part of the future fuel mix then we have to begin exploring all possibilities now.”

https://www.reuters.com/business/sustainable-business/too-cold-handle-race-is-pioneer-shipping-hydrogen-2021-05-11

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EXPLAINER: Why Japan has been slow to roll out vaccinations

EXPLAINER: Why Japan has been slow to roll out vaccinations

15-May-2021 Intellasia |
AP |
5:02 AM

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Japan’s rollout of COVID-19 vaccines began belatedly in mid-February, months behind the United States and many other countries. Officials blamed a shortage of Pfiser Inc. vaccine from Europe as the main culprit in the delay. But three months later, with shipments stabilised and officials attempting to accelerate vaccinations, Japan remains one of the world’s least protected.

Officials say there is a critical shortage of trained staff to give shots. Despite prime minister Yoshihide Suga’s pledge to have all eligible people fully vaccinated by the end of September, some officials say it could take until next year. It will be impossible for Japan to achieve protective “herd immunity” in the two months before the Tokyo Olympics are to begin.

It’s uncertain whether Japan’s already-strained healthcare system can treat extra visitors during the games as it struggles to handle local patients and mass inoculations.

Suga’s government is facing heavy pressure from a public increasingly frustrated by the slow vaccine rollout and repeated declarations of states of emergency. Many now oppose hosting the Olympics.

WHY THE VACCINE DELAY?

The slow start was because Japan requested domestic clinical trials in addition to Pfiser Inc.’s testing in other countries.

Dozens of nations accepted the results of Pfiser’s multinational tests released in November and began vaccinations. The additional testing in Japan took extra months, though the government then took just two months to grant its approval for the vaccine, much faster than the typical one year.

The vaccine made by Moderna Inc. is to be approved later this month after a similar process for use at two large-scale inoculation centers in Tokyo and Osaka. Approval for a third, AstraZeneca, is pending.

WHY DID JAPAN ASK FOR MORE DATA?

People in Japan are often skeptical about foreign-made drugs, especially vaccines, and officials say they needed to thoroughly address safety concerns.

Pfiser’s international tests were conducted from July to November on about 44,000 people in six countries, including about 2,000 Asians. Japan requested tests on 160 Japanese people, triggering criticism that testing such a small number added little but delay.

Japanese health officials have defended the delay as necessary to build confidence in the vaccine. But Suga has recently acknowledged a need to adapt rules to cope with the emergency.

WHY IS VACCINE CONFIDENCE LOW?

Japan’s mistrust of vaccines is decades old, partly because side effects have often been played up.

In the 1990s, the government scrapped mandatory inoculations after a court ruling held it responsible for side effects linked to several vaccines.

More recently, Japan stopped recommending the human papillomavirus, or HPV, vaccine after media reports of alleged side effects, renewing concerns despite its widespread use overseas as protection against cervical cancer.

WHAT IS JAPAN’S VACCINE TIMELINE?

Inoculations started in Japan in mid-February and only about 1 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated. Less than one-third of the 4.8 million prioritised medical workers have received their second shots as of Wednesday.

Vaccinations for 36 million elderly people began in mid-April, and about half a million have received their initial shots. The government aims to finish their second shots by the end of July, at least a month behind the original schedule, but about 15 percent of municipalities say they still need more time, according to a government survey this week. Health experts and some officials say it may take until next spring for the rest of the population to be vaccinated.

DOES JAPAN HAVE ENOUGH VACCINE?

Japan has secured the supply of 344 million doses, enough to cover its entire population, through the end of this year. That includes 194 million doses from Pfiser, 120 million from AstraZeneca and 50 million from Moderna.

Vaccine shipments picked up in May, and health ministry data show that about 7 million doses are currently sitting unused in freezers, despite initial concerns of supply shortages.

Officials say their bigger concern is a shortage of medical staff to administer the shots. Only doctors and nurses are allowed to give them in Japan’s conservative medical culture.

Dentists are willing to help and are authorised, but have not been called upon. Getting shots from pharmacists at drug stores as in the US or from volunteers with no medical background other than brief training as in Britain remain unthinkable in Japan. IS JAPAN DEVELOPING ITS OWN VACCINES?

Several Japanese companies and research organisations are developing possible coronavirus vaccines, including some that are being clinically tested. Shionogi and Co. said recently it hopes to get its vaccine candidate approved by the end of this year.

Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. will distribute the Moderna vaccine and produce the Novavax vaccine in Japan, and JCR Pharmaceuticals Co. will produce the AstraZeneca vaccine under a licensing deal.

Experts say vaccine development is unpopular in Japan because of its risks, the time-consuming process and a lack of government funding.

https://apnews.com/article/japan-coronavirus-vaccine-coronavirus-pandemic-sports-business-04eaae220abeff6cb30ee4f0e0fc58f8

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CEOs criticise Japan’s slow vaccine push, saying growth at risk

CEOs criticise Japan’s slow vaccine push, saying growth at risk

15-May-2021 Intellasia |
Bloomberg |
5:02 AM

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Business executives in Japan are starting to voice concerns over what they see as an unacceptably slow vaccine rollout in one of the world’s richest countries, a rare chorus of warnings over increasing risks to any economic recovery.

“Among developed nations, Japan is the biggest problem,” Takehiko Kakiuchi, chief executive officer of Mitsubishi Corp., said during a recent earnings briefing. As one of the country’s largest trading companies, Mitsubishi has broad visibility across all sectors of the economy, from heavy machinery and petrochemicals, to property and retail.

While Japan has fared better during the pandemic compared with its Western peers deaths and infection numbers at only a fraction of many developed nations its vaccine rollout has been shockingly slow. Just 2 percent of the nation’s population has been inoculated, the lowest among the 37 members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, according to Bloomberg’s vaccine tracker. That compares with about 41 percent in both the United States and the United Kingdom.

The sluggish rollout is also fuelling public concerns over the delayed Tokyo Olympics, scheduled for July 23. A recent opinion poll by the Yomiuri newspaper showed 59 percent of respondents saying the games should be canceled. At the same time, the metropolis and other big cities are struggling to bring under control a recent wave of new cases caused by the spread of virus variants.

“I really hope that we will see a vaccination acceleration, it’s very important; otherwise you are exposed to new spike in variants,” Christophe Weber, CEO of Japan’s largest drugmaker, Takeda Pharmaceutical Co., said this week. He added that he thought Japan’s vaccination rollout was at the same level as where Europe was a few months ago and expected it to pick up speed soon.

The chorus of complaints over the slow vaccination rollout increased in volume during the earnings season, as many Japanese businesses reported weaker profit and sales for the fiscal year covering the 12 months through March a period when consumption, production and travel were curtailed as economies went into lockdown to prevent the spread of infections.

“If vaccinations don’t speed up, then tourists won’t return and that impacts how our company recovers,” said Takayuki Yokota, chief financial officer of beauty giant Shiseido Co., which before the pandemic was buoyed by an influx of tourists many from China shopping for cosmetics in Japan. It’s unclear when the Japan market recovery would pick up again, he said. “I was on a call with five members of our US team the other day, and all had finished their second shots.”

Frustration is mounting with the slow rollout especially because Japan has access to tens of millions of doses of the Pfiser Inc.-BioNTech SE shot, and isn’t facing supply shortages like some developing countries. Currently, that vaccine is the only one approved for local use and the rollout is limited to health care workers and people age 65 or over.

Facing mounting pressure, prime minister Yoshihide Suga said on May 7 that the government will aim to administer a million shots a day, though he didn’t give a target on when that will happen. The daily average of doses administered in the past seven days is around 200,000, up from an average of about 155,000 shots per day in the last week of April, based on the tracker data.

Last month, Japan’s Association of New Economy released a petition calling for speedier and more efficient vaccinations measures. More than 50 executives added their signatures, including Masanori Mochida, the head of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. in Japan, and Akio Nitori, CEO of furniture giant Nitori Holdings Co. Most of the signatures are in industries that have been hit hard by pandemic restrictions, such as hotels, dining and alcoholic beverages.

“The Japanese economy needs to bounce back, or things will get difficult,” said Rakuten Group Inc. CEO Hiroshi Mikitani, who created the business group behind the petition. The founder of the e-commerce company said on Thursday he would keep pushing the Suga administration to find better ways to rollout the vaccine and was standing by to help. “The operation is complicated, very complicated, and it’s frustrating.”

Adding to the pain are the current emergency measures to mitigate the current wave of new infections that is once again straining the medical system. Eating and drinking establishments have been asked to stop serving alcohol and many shopping areas are closing early or entirely through the end of May.

It’s no surprise, then, that department store operator Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings Ltd announced its second straight year of losses. Any recovery will depend on the rollout, the retailer’s president Toshiyuki Hosoya said: “If vaccinations proceed like the government has announced, then our earnings should quickly grow.”

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/05/14/business/ceo-vaccine-criticism/

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Japan’s exports seen posting largest monthly gain since 2010

Japan’s exports seen posting largest monthly gain since 2010

15-May-2021 Intellasia |
Reuters |
5:02 AM

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Japan’s exports likely grew more than 30 percent year-on-year in April, the most in more than a decade, a Reuters poll showed on Friday, but the base effect was a major factor after last year’s steep decline due to the initial impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The world’s third-largest economy has recovered largely due to solid overseas demand that has boosted output and exports, even as a resurgence of coronavirus infections are dampening consumption.

Next week’s key data include machinery orders and consumer and wholesale prices, as well as first-quarter gross domestic product figures that will be released on Tuesday. read more

Exports likely surged 30.9 percent in April from a year earlier, which would mark the sharpest monthly rise since May 2010, the poll of 18 economists showed.

Imports were forecast to have grown 8.8 percent in April from a year earlier, which would result in a trade surplus of 140.0 billion yen ($1.28 billion).

“Tightness in supply and demand of semiconductors seems to have a minor impact on exports so far,” said Takeshi Minami, chief economist at Norinchukin Research Institute.

“Export values increased greatly, by 32.2%, in early and mid-April, in part in reaction to a sharp downturn in the same month last year.”

A slump in global trade due to supply chain disruptions from coronavirus lockdowns around the world delivered a heavy blow to Japan’s trade-reliant economy in April last year.

The finance ministry announces trade data at 8:50 a.m. on Thursday (2350 GMT Wednesday).

Core machinery orders data, which exclude those for ships and electrical utilities, are also set to be released on Wednesday.

The poll showed core machinery orders in March were expected to have decreased 2.6 percent from year-ago levels, and to have gained 6.4 percent compared to the previous month.

The core consumer price index (CPI), which includes oil products but excludes volatile fresh food prices, is expected to have fallen 0.2 percent in April compared to the same month a year earlier, according to the Reuters poll.

($1 = 109.5500 yen)

https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/japans-exports-seen-posting-largest-monthly-gain-since-2010-2021-05-14/

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Japan to expand virus emergency ahead of Tokyo Olympics

Japan to expand virus emergency ahead of Tokyo Olympics

15-May-2021 Intellasia |
AP |
5:02 AM

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Japan on Friday further expanded a coronavirus state of emergency, currently in Tokyo and five other prefectures, to nine areas, as prime minister Yoshihide Suga’s government is determined to hold the Olympics in just over two months.

Japan has been struggling to slow the infections ahead of the Games. The three additions include Japan’s northern island state of Hokkaido, where the Olympic marathon will be held, as well as Hiroshima and Okayama in western Japan.

The three areas on Sunday will join Tokyo, Osaka and four other prefectures already under the coronavirus restrictions, until May 31, Suga announced at a government taskforce meeting Friday. Bars, karaoke parlors and most entertainment facilities are required to close. Business owners who comply will be compensated; those who don’t could face fines.

“Infections are escalating extremely rapidly in populated areas,” Suga said while explaining the decision.

His government is under heavy pressure from the public increasingly frustrated by the slow vaccine rollout and repeated emergency declarations. Many now oppose hosting the Olymics July 23-August 8, and people appear to be less cooperative with stay-at-home and social-distancing requests that are not compulsory anyway.

Less than 2 percent of the public has been fully vaccinated.

The expansion of the state of emergency is a major shift from the government’s initial plan that relied on less stringent measures that were deemed insufficient.

The addition of Hiroshima to areas covered by emergency measures comes just days after Japanese organisers announced that International Olympic Committee Chair Thomas Bach’s trip originally scheduled for next week to mark the Hiroshima leg of the torch relay, has been canceled.

Earlier Friday, organisers of a petition demanding the cancellation of the Olympics submitted to Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike more than 350,000 signatures collected since early May. The petition says money spent on the Games should be better used on people in financial needs because of the pandemic.

On Thursday, Japan reported 6,800 new confirmed cases, adding to its total of 665,547 with 11,255 deaths.

https://apnews.com/article/tokyo-japan-olympic-games-health-coronavirus-pandemic-09484735196d1d21198a4f2bcfba67b2

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Japan PM advisers urge minimum wage hikes, stick to fiscal reform

Japan PM advisers urge minimum wage hikes, stick to fiscal reform

15-May-2021 Intellasia |
Reuters |
5:02 AM

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The private-sector advisers to Japanese prime minister Yoshihide Suga on Friday called for raising minimum wages this fiscal year to stimulate private consumption as the world’s third-largest economy struggles to contain a prolonged coronavirus pandemic.

The four advisers at the Council for Economic and Fiscal Policy called on the government to stick to its budget-balancing target as massive coronavirus-related spending has strained the industrial world’s heaviest public debt burden.

The proposals, which were made at the council’s gathering, could be reflected in government’s mid-year policy guidelines, which will provide the basis for next fiscal year’s budget, to be compiled in late December.

If the economy makes a progress towards normalisation with the help of vaccinations, real GDP is expected to return to pre-pandemic levels as early as this autumn, the advisers told the meeting.

However, downside risks warrant close attention, they added, given that a third state of coronavirus emergency was enacted for the capital, Tokyo, and some other areas in late April and has been extended until the end of this month.

The advisers said pay increases, including minimum wages, should give a boost to sustainable growth and prevent poverty, particularly among low-paid non-regular workers many of whom are part-timers and contract workers.

Japan must regain the momentum towards minimum wage increases to 1,000 yen per hour in order to achieve swift economic recovery, they said, calling for continuing the efforts seen in recent years.

Minimum wages had risen 3 percent on average a year from fiscal 2017 to 2019, but they stopped rising last fiscal year as the pandemic dealt a blow to corporate profits.

Suga’s aim for boosting the minimum wage is facing stiff opposition from Japan’s small and midsize firms, worried about their survival during COVID-19.

Japan has compiled three pandemic-specific packages worth a combined $3 trillion. It has vowed to balance a primary budget, which excludes new bond sales and debt servicing costs, by fiscal year end in March 2026 to rein in dire public finances.

https://finance.yahoo.com/news/japan-pm-advisers-urge-minimum-090443838.html

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Amazon seeks renewable power for Japan data centres-Nikkei

Amazon seeks renewable power for Japan data centres-Nikkei

15-May-2021 Intellasia |
Reuters |
5:02 AM

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Amazon.com Inc is in talks with Japanese power utilities and trading houses to build a renewable power plant in Japan to procure clean energy for its local data centres, the Nikkei reported late on Thursday.

The US online retail and tech giant is seeking ways to procure electricity over the long term from exclusive renewable energy power stations, the Nikkei said.

A Japanese trading house is considering supplying electricity to Amazon from an off-shore wind farm to be built in Japan if it wins in the government auction that began last year, the Nikkei said.

The Japanese government brought in a law in 2019 to enhance development of offshore wind farms, allowing operators to use designated sea zones for 30 years. The auction under the new law started last year.

Amazon is also in talks with power companies to build a new solar power plant, the Nikkei said.

The tech behemoth, which has seven data centres in Japan, aims to make all the power consumed globally by its data centres renewable by 2025, according to the Nikkei.

Amazon was not immediately available for comment.

The US company has pledged to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2040 and to power all its operations with renewable energy by 2030.

The company issued its first sustainability bond on Monday, raising $1 billion to invest in renewable energy, clean transport, greener buildings and affordable housing.

https://sg.news.yahoo.com/amazon-seeks-renewable-power-japan-025317230.html

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Japan to ban re-entry of foreign residents who visit India, Nepal and Pakistan

Japan to ban re-entry of foreign residents who visit India, Nepal and Pakistan

15-May-2021 Intellasia |
JapanTimes |
5:02 AM

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The government will ban foreign nationals, including those who are Japan residents, from re-entering the country starting Friday if they have recently spent time in India, Nepal or Pakistan where a new variant of the coronavirus is rampant although some foreign nationals who left prior to the ban will be able to return.

Japanese nationals returning from those countries will still be allowed to re-enter Japan, the government announced Wednesday night.

The entry ban will apply to foreign nationals who have spent time in any of the three countries in the 14 days prior to their intended arrival. Permanent residents, long-term resident status holders, and spouses and children of Japanese nationals or permanent residents who left Japan before the travel restrictions take effect will be allowed in even after Friday.

“We will tighten and ease entry restrictions depending on the situation,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said during a news conference Thursday.

Kato said that in making the decision, the government had taken into consideration that there are still many unknown factors about the new variant, the rising numbers of cases in those countries and the fact that many new variant cases have been detected at airports.

“On May 10, the WHO (World Health Organization) classified the mutation as a ‘variant of global concern,’” which requires heightened tracking and analysis, Kato said. “Based on that decision we have also defined it as a variant of concern,” he said.

With the move, Japan joined other territories that have already placed travel restrictions on people arriving from India and neighbouring countries.

Taiwan on Monday barred arrivals from India. The UK, Germany and the United States have already introduced similar restrictions, but unlike Japan they have exempted citizens and permanent residents. Australia, meanwhile, has drawn criticism for barring even its own citizens who have traveled to those countries from returning home.

At present, only foreign residents with a valid residency status and Japanese nationals are allowed to enter Japan, while new entries from all countries are banned, with some exceptions for travellers seeking entry in emergencies. Starting Friday, exceptions will only be made for people returning from the three countries under special circumstances, including family and medical emergencies.

While the travel ban will apply only to foreign nationals, Japanese citizens may also face the risk of being denied entry if they fail to comply with the recently revised Quarantine Act.

Japan currently requires all arrivals into the country to provide negative COVID-19 results from tests taken within 72 hours of their departure and to be again tested upon entry. All people entering the country are also required to self-quarantine for 14 days at their homes, hotels or other facilities.

Japan’s blanket travel bans on new arrivals have remained in place throughout most of the pandemic.

Until last fall, the bans had also applied to foreign residents with a valid resident status in Japan making it the only Group of Seven country to have COVID-19 entry restrictions that discriminated between citizens and permanent and long-term foreign residents, and sparking outrage among the international community.

The latest decision to ban re-entry by residents comes after Japan added India on May 1 to a list of regions covered by stringent quarantine measures, after a so-called double mutation in a strain known as B.1.617 that emerged in the South Asian country was detected in Japan.

As of Monday, Japan had confirmed 70 cases of the more virulent B.1.617 variant in Japan, of which 66 were found in airport quarantine and four cases were confirmed among domestic infections, according to the National Institute of Infectious Diseases.

Under the stricter measures beginning May 1, travellers arriving from India and neighbouring Nepal and Pakistan have been obliged to stay at designated facilities for six days upon arrival as part of a 14-day self-quarantine. The government tightened measures for the self-isolation period for the three countries out of fear that the new variant could trigger another wave of infections similar to the one seen after it failed to shut out a British variant of the virus which was first detected in December.

Travellers from other countries covered by stricter quarantine rules are required to spend the first three days in designated facilities and are tested for COVID-19 on the third day. Only those who test negative can relocate to facilities of their choice or return home for the remainder of the 14-day period. Since Monday, travellers from India and the neighbouring countries have been tested on the third and sixth day after entering Japan.

Record numbers of COVID-19 infections and deaths in India have recently sparked calls for the government to lock down the world’s second-most populous country.

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/05/13/national/india-pakistan-nepal-japan-ban/

Category: Japan

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Japanese journalist indicted in Burma freed

Japanese journalist indicted in Burma freed

15-May-2021 Intellasia |
JapanTimes |
5:02 AM

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A Japanese freelance journalist detained by security forces in Myanmar in mid-April and accused of spreading “fake news” has been released and arrived at Yangon International Airport on Friday.

Yuki Kitazumi, 45, was arrested in Yangon on April 18 and a military spokesman said Thursday night he had been moved from prison to a police facility.

The Japanese Embassy in Myanmar said its staff spoke with Kitazumi by phone on Wednesday and found he has no health issues. The embassy also confirmed the military’s plan to release him.

According to a state-run TV station, the junta’s information office said Kitazumi had been arrested and indicted for supporting the anti-coup civil disobedience movement and violent protests, and for not complying with visa regulations.

The State Administration Council Information Team reportedly said while Kitazumi “has broken some laws,” the decision to release him was made “in consideration of cordial relations between Myanmar and Japan up to now and in view of future bilateral relations, and upon the request of the Japanese government special envoy on Myanmar’s national reconciliation.”

The journalist, who previously worked at the Tokyo-based Nikkei business daily, had covered anti-government protests and posted on social media information deemed to be critical of the military.

Kitazumi had been detained previously while covering an anti-military protest on February 26, but he was released later in the day.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato, Japan’s top government spokesman, had demanded during a regular briefing on April 20 that the security forces in Myanmar release Kitazumi.

Kitazumi could have faced a jail term of up to three years if convicted under the penal code as amended after the February 1 military coup.

Local journalist gets three-year sentence

Only a day earlier, a Myanmar journalist who reported on the anti-junta protests was jailed for the full three years for incitement, his news organisation said.

Min Nyo, who worked for the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) in Myanmar’s Bago region, was arrested on March 3 and found guilty by a military court in one of the first verdicts against media workers since the February 1 coup.

“DVB demands the military authority release Min Nyo immediately, as well as other detained or convicted journalists around Myanmar,” it said.

He had been beaten by police and denied visits by his family, it said.

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the coup, with the military struggling to impose order amid a groundswell of public anger at its overthrow of Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government.

Many journalists are among the nearly 4,900 people who have been arrested, according to the Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) advocacy group.

DVB is among several news outlets that have had licenses revoked by the military, which has restricted internet access and used lethal force to suppress countrywide strikes and protests against it. More than 780 people have been killed by security forces, according to AAPP figures.

Three of DVB’s journalists were detained in northern Thailand this week for illegal entry after fleeing Myanmar. Human rights groups have pleaded with Thailand not to deport them.

Emerlynne Gil, Amnesty International’s deputy Regional director, said journalism had effectively been criminalised by Myanmar’s generals.

“They risk life and liberty to shed light on the military’s abuses. The military authorities are ruthless, determined to crush dissent by silencing those who seek to expose their crimes,” Gil said in a statement.

Resistance to the junta has intensified in recent weeks, with hostilities reigniting between the military and several ethnic minority armies, fatal attacks on junta-appointed administrators, and ambushes of police and soldiers by militias calling themselves People’s Defence Forces.

MRTV announced on Thursday that martial law had been declared due to unrest in Mindut in northwestern Chin State. Resistance groups there say there has been heavy fighting between armed civilians and junta troops.

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/05/14/national/myanmar-yuki-kitazumi-release/

Category: Japan

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