Each week, here at Osaka.com, we bring you a selection of some of the top stories about Osaka making the local and national news here in Japan. Sometimes it’s serious, sometimes it’s funny, but it’s always direct to you, from Osaka.
Here’s a look at some of the stories hitting the headlines in Osaka this week.
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Discrimination Allegations Over ALT Vaccine Access
Previously, we at Osaka.com reported the anger and frustration felt by Osaka City’s Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs) regarding lack of vaccine access. ALTs work alongside Japanese teachers in the delivery of English lessons to students from elementary school age onwards.
Previously, one could dismiss this as incompetence. However, evidence this week points to possible discrimination on the part of Osaka City’s Board of Education. Osaka.com spoke exclusively with a number of ALTs this past week to build a clearer picture of what exactly happened.
It is important to distinguish between the two different management structures in place for ALTs in Osaka. Osaka Prefectural High Schools fall under the control of Osaka Prefectural Board of Education.
The prefectural board of education already pledged to vaccinate their ALTs alongside other school teachers. This ensures most if not all prefectural ALTs will receive both vaccinations before the new semester.
Problems for the Osaka City Board of Education ALTs first surfaced in June. Many ALTs already heard via their schools that teachers would have priority for vaccines. At their regular Monday meeting, ALTs were told that they could not apply for a vaccine via the teachers’ vaccination program. The reason given: they are not categorized as teachers.
Alternatively, ALTs learned they could sign up for a different scheme. If anyone cancelled a vaccine appointment, then the ALTs could go on a waiting list to be contacted. However, this scheme covered all contracted city employees. This represents a sizeable portion of the city’s administrative staff, of which the ALTs are but one small element.
Contractually and legally speaking this itself does not constitute discrimination.
Discrimination or Gross Incompetence?
However, the story doesn’t end there.
Where some ALTs have alleged discrimination, lies in how the BOE handled registration for this alternative scheme. The BOE informed ALTS of the scheme and how to register online, at 4pm on the Monday afternoon. They had an application deadline of 12pm the following day (Tuesday). One ALT I spoke to, was anxious to give themselves the best chance of securing a slot. So, they filed their application online almost as soon as they could, around 5pm on Monday. However, applications from ALTs for the scheme could not be submitted directly. They had to first go through the ALT program coordinator who would then forward them to HR for processing. Other Japanese staff did not face this extra hurdle. Additionally, the scheme was open to Japanese staff from 11am Monday morning.
ALTs were not even made aware the scheme existed until around 4pm that afternoon. To make matters worse, rather than submitting applications as they came in, the ALT coordinator collated all the ALT applications and sent them in together at around 11.30am on Tuesday morning, shortly before applications closed.
To date, as far as we know, not one single ALT from Osaka City received their vaccine via this scheme.
Discrimination, gross incompetence, or a combination thereof? We’ll leave you to decide. We asked the BOE for comment, but they declined. They said only it was “an internal matter”. However, we now face unvaccinated teachers teaching at as many as 7 or 8 different schools in a week. The citizens of Osaka deserve to know the risks the BOE are taking with public health and that of their own staff.
State of Emergency has Little Effect as Viral Spread Continues
Meanwhile, it is not just Osaka’s foreign teachers who face a hard time getting vaccinated. A new state of emergency, called recently in the face of rising infections, has yet to impact infection rates. City officials and medical experts expressed caution this week. They see elements of “covid fatigue” setting in amongst Osaka’s citizens. People aren’t as fastidious in their precautions; mask wearing isn’t as constant as it was in the earlier days of the pandemic.
Many also disregarded government requests not to travel during this week’s Obon festival. Obon is a traditional event held every August in Japan. As part of the festivities, many people head out of the cities and return to their ancestral hometowns to pay tribute to their deceased relatives. The fact that most of Japan’s elderly population have now been at least partially vaccinated appears to be something of a double-edged sword.
On one hand, the increased vaccination rate clearly appears to have impacted the number of deaths during this 5th wave. However, many of those vaccinated appear to have dropped their guard, unaware that they can still carry the virus asymptomatically. Even if the government can make good on their pledge to offer vaccines to all adults
Kansai has a new sports superstar in the making. Kyogo Furuhashi, originally from Nara, on the outskirts of Osaka, made his home debut for this new soccer team, Celtic FC last Sunday. Furuhashi scored a hattrick as the Glasgow giants ran our 6-0 winners against Dundee at Celtic Park. Furuhashi follows in the footsteps of Japanese soccer legend Shunsuke Nakamura, who played for Celtic for 5 years back in the mid-2000s.
If Kyogo, as the fans have taken to calling him, can make even a fraction of the impact Nakamura did in his time in Scotland, he should do very well.
That’s all for now but be sure to check back again same time next week for another round of this week in Osaka!