Suga Needs to Show Clear Plans to Overcome Crisis / Halting Virus is 1st Step to Fixing Economy

In order to erase society’s fears about novel coronavirus infections and have the economy recover, politics has a significant role to play.

The government should not hesitate to review the Go To Travel tourism promotion campaign to prevent infections from spreading further.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga held a press conference Friday to mark the closure on Saturday of the extraordinary Diet session. “[My] biggest responsibility is to protect the lives and livelihood of the people,” the prime minister emphasized in speaking about the handling of the pandemic.

It was his first press conference at the Prime Minister’s Office since he held one there in September, when he assumed the post of prime minister. He has occasionally explained measures against the infectious disease in on-the-spot interviews with reporters, but it can hardly be said that he has sufficiently expressed to the public his plans for dealing with the crisis.

Leader’s own words vital

In order to overcome a situation that can be described as a national crisis, the administration’s top leader needs to present clear guidelines and convey messages in his own words. The prime minister should actively increase opportunities to present his statements.

The number of people newly confirmed to be infected with the virus remains at a record-high level. The Suga administration can only be described as being behind in its efforts to stop the spread of infections.

The government has called for the public to avoid the so-called Three Cs of closed spaces, crowded places and close-contact settings and to make sure to wear masks, among other steps. On the other hand, Shigeru Omi, the chairman of the government’s subcommittee on measures against the novel coronavirus, said, “The stage of relying on individual efforts is over.” A strong response from the government is urgently needed.

The subcommittee has urged that the Go To Travel program be suspended. The government has excluded the cities of Osaka and Sapporo as destinations, but it ended up only making small adjustments for travel to and from Tokyo, including calling for older people and others to exercise self-restraint in using the program.

In response to the rapid increase of coronavirus patients, the Osaka prefectural government has requested that the public refrain from non-essential and non-urgent outings. The Tokyo metropolitan government has also made a similar request. Many local governments have sought such measures as shortened opening hours for restaurants and other establishments.

It is hard to shake a sense of discomfort when the central government recommends that people move around while local governments call for self-restraint. In the first place, aren’t the Go To campaigns meant to start when infections abate?

It is important to balance economic revitalization with stopping the spread of infections. However, continuing to stimulate the economy even as infections continue to spread is certainly too aggressive.

The government plans to extend the Go To Travel program until the end of June next year. It also intends to secure further budget for the Go To Eat program to support the restaurant industry.

Ought not the government review the system in order to be able to flexibly suspend or restart the programs by reconsidering the mechanisms for them?

Adjust stimulus programs

We know from experience that a declaration of a state of emergency will have a significant impact on the economy. In order to avoid such a situation, it is necessary to move the focus to measures that prevent infections.

People in the medical field are making the utmost efforts to treat COVID-19 patients amid the risk of being infected themselves. In order to reduce their burdens, there is nothing for it but to reduce the number of infected people. The government should take the situation on the front line of medical services seriously.

At the press conference, the prime minister emphasized achievements made in the extraordinary Diet session.

The revised Immunization Law was enacted in the latest Diet session, stating that, among other things, the people have an obligation to make efforts to be vaccinated against the novel coronavirus, and that the costs of vaccination should be paid by the state. Now, a system must be developed so that people can smoothly receive the vaccine at locations close to them.

The Diet also approved an economic partnership agreement with Britain to avoid tariff rate increases between the two countries, among other items, following Britain’s exit from the European Union.

On the issue of Suga’s refusal to appoint six candidate members recommended by the Science Council of Japan, the prime minister only stated, “I made an appropriate judgment considering the role required of the council.”

Suga has yet to explain the discrepancy with a past government statement saying that the prime minister’s appointment is a formality and the appointments are actually made as recommended.

The government and the Liberal Democratic Party are trying to review the structure of the council because they take issue with its proposals that are critical of national security policy. However, the nature of the council and refusing the appointments must be separate issues. The prime minister must reveal the reasons for his judgment.

Discuss top law

Regarding the dinner parties held by a support organization of then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the eve of the prime minister’s cherry blossom viewing events, it has increasingly been suspected that the organization improperly covered part of the cost of the parties. It is expected a case will be established against a secretary on suspicion of violating the Political Funds Control Law.

Abe bears a heavy responsibility for repeatedly having stated at the Diet that the support organization did not make any payments for the occasion. It is important to deal with the matter sincerely by not leaving mistakes made in statements unattended. Suga, who supported Abe, must make meticulous explanations in order to not undermine trust in politics.

The LDP and the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan have agreed to reach a conclusion, during the ordinary Diet session next year, on the bill to revise the National Referendum Law that stipulates procedures for constitutional amendment. The revised law must be established at an early date, and it is vital to discuss the nature of the nation’s supreme law at the commissions on the Constitution of the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 5, 2020)