Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared a state of emergency for Tokyo, Osaka and five other prefectures on April 7 in response to a startling increase of COVID-19 infections in the region’s cities in an uneasy moment for its domestic semiconductor industry. The declaration, effective through May 6, authorized the six prefectural governors to strengthen curbs on the spread of the virus and included guidance for citizens to stay home and restrictions on operations of non-essential businesses.
With Japan supplying some 40 percent of the world’s chip production equipment and materials, the declaration stirred fears among semiconductor manufacturers that their uninterrupted operations – critical to sustaining the global industry – might be at risk.
Japan Government Designates Semiconductor Industry as Essential
In April 7 and 11 revisions to its Basic Policies for Novel Coronavirus Disease Control, the Japanese government allayed those concerns by designating semiconductor manufacturers essential businesses – a stark acknowledgment of the chipmakers’ vital role in combatting the novel coronavirus. The policy stated:
“Among medical and manufacturing industries, we request the continuation of the following business operators in consideration of infection prevention: operators who are difficult to stop production line due to the characteristics of the equipment (such as blast furnaces and semiconductor factories); and operators who produce essentials (including important items in supply chains) for protection of the people who need medical care and support, as well as for maintenance of social infrastructure. We also request the continuation of the business operators who sustain medical care, the lives of the people, and maintenance of the national economy.”
SEMI Japan Reaches Out to Prefectures to Urge Essential Business Designation
Equipment and materials shortages can halt production of an entire fab line and ripple through intricately connected global supply chains to stifle the production of end devices including the electronics critical to COVID-19 treatments. Electronic devices also play a central role in containing the virus’s spread by enabling artificial intelligence (AI), data analytics, digital communications, telemedicine, robotics, remote health monitoring, telecommuting, online shopping and other digital services.
The essential business designation was explicit recognition that Japan’s semiconductor supply chain is integral to the global chip production ecosystem and worthy of the same protections the government has implemented for semiconductor companies. With SEMI members operating in Japan’s 47 prefectures, I sent letters to all prefectural governors three days after the second policy revision, urging them to apply the same designation, and the SEMI Japan team is following up to secure their support.
SEMI Japan Encourages Government to Exempt Members from Travel Restrictions
The Japan Foreign Ministry on March 31 raised to level 3 its travel advisory for 49 regions including the U.S., China, Taiwan and South Korea, encouraging Japanese citizens to avoid travel regardless of purpose to blunt the international spread of the coronavirus. SEMI Japan is working with the Semiconductor Equipment Association of Japan to urge the government to exempt semiconductor supply chain companies from the level 3 travel restrictions if they implement measures to prevent domestic infections and contagion in the visited regions. The exemptions would allow supply chain companies to install and service equipment at fabs – one key to maintaining smooth, uninterrupted operations.
SEMI Supports Members with COVID-19 Resources
SEMI international headquarters and regional offices are here to help you, our members. For more information on our webinars, surveys, best practices and other information designed to help you meet the challenges of the pandemic, please visit the SEMI Coronavirus Updates & Resources page.
 The six prefectures are Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba, Saitama, Osaka, Hyogo and Fukuoka.
 Provisional translation by Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. Full document is available at https://www.mhlw.go.jp/content/10900000/000620733.pdf.
Jim Hamajima is president of SEMI Japan.