Politicians must Debate Concrete Measures to Overcome Pandemic

It is the job of politics not only to pursue political mismanagement, but also to devise concrete measures to overcome the issues faced by the nation. The ruling and opposition parties should engage in constructive discussions.

Party leaders have begun a question-and-answer session centering on the policy speech delivered earlier by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.

Pointing to the government’s slow response to the coronavirus pandemic, Yukio Edano, head of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, said that “the recent spread of infections is a politically induced man-made disaster.”

It is undeniable that the government failed to prepare for large-scale winter infections as the prime minister rushed to revive the economy. Opposition parties seem to be strictly pursuing the responsibility of the Suga Cabinet.

Edano called for a shift to “zero coronavirus” rather than coexistence with the infectious disease. Zero coronavirus means that the government should implement thorough measures to contain the spread of the virus and support society with compensation and benefits during that period.

Measures that completely suspend economic and social activities would have an enormous impact on people’s livelihoods. Can the goal of reducing the number of infected people to zero be called realistic?

An urgent policy issue is how to resolve the severe situation of hospital bed capacity and secure medical workers. It is also essential to provide meticulous support to eating and drinking establishments that comply with requests to shorten their operating hours, and to people in need. Opposition parties need to propose effective policies in line with reality.

Regarding a bill to revise the Infectious Diseases Law, which aims to impose criminal penalties on those who do not follow hospitalization recommendations, Edano said, “Going so far as to impose a prison term is never acceptable.” The ruling and opposition parties should carefully consider the appropriateness of criminal punishment.

With regard to the third supplementary budget for fiscal 2020, Edano criticized the fact that more than ¥1 trillion had been appropriated for extending the now-suspended Go To Travel tourism promotion campaign, and insisted that the money be transferred to fund measures against the infectious disease.

The prime minister refuted Edano’s statement, saying, “Sufficient funding has been secured for coronavirus countermeasures.” However, the government should not rush to resume the campaign under the current circumstances, which make it difficult to bring the virus under control swiftly.

The supplementary budget includes funds for vaccinations. The government plans to start vaccinations in late February.

In Europe and the United States, where inoculations have already started, the pace of vaccinations has been behind schedule. It is important for the Japanese government to cooperate with local governments to make preparations for such matters as transporting and storing vaccines, as well as securing venues.

CDPJ lawmaker Seiji Osaka called for clarification of the truth behind the bribe-taking scandal involving former Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Takamori Yoshikawa and the alleged violations of the Political Funds Control Law related to dinners held by then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s circle on the eve of cherry blossom viewing parties.

If public trust in politics is shaken, the people’s cooperation for implementing policies cannot be obtained. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party must eliminate laxity and firmly straighten itself up.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Jan. 21, 2021.