Diet Debate must Focus sharply on Steps to Contain Coronavirus

What steps are needed to break out of the critical circumstances in which the spread of the novel coronavirus has been increasing? The government and both the ruling and opposition parties should seriously debate concrete measures for that purpose.

A question-and-answer session has started at the Budget Committee of the House of Representatives. Concerning coronavirus countermeasures, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga emphatically said, “Taking into account knowledge and experience obtained within the past year, it is important to implement measures that are effective and contain infections.”

Based on that, the prime minister called for cooperation in passing as soon as possible bills to revise legislation such as the special measures law to cope with new strains of influenza and the Infectious Diseases Law.

The bill to revise the special measures law is aimed at making it possible for prefectural governors to order businesses to suspend their operations and take other measures, imposing fines if orders are not complied with. The bill to revise the Infectious Diseases Law includes the imposition of prison terms on infected people who do not comply with hospitalization recommendations.

In relation to the refusal to be hospitalized, the prime minister said that there were also cases in which infected people sneaked out of medical institutions without permission.

But how many coronavirus patients have actually refused treatment despite needing to be hospitalized, and have thus spread the virus? Imposing such penalties could invite discrimination against infected people, and there may also be people who will avoid being tested for the virus in fear of these penalties.

It is vital to clearly explain the basis for thinking that such penalties are indispensable to containing the virus.

The current situation includes a series of cases in which infected people have not been able to be hospitalized because there were no available beds, and died while being treated at home. The priority in the debate should be how to secure sufficient beds for these patients.

Opposition parties called for a review of imposing those penalties, among other demands. In response, the prime minister said, “There can be no [distinction between] ruling and opposition parties in order to stop the infections,” thus expressing his intention to hold meetings with other party leaders. From now on, the amendment of the bills will be a focal point.

To dispel public anxiety, ruling and opposition parties should hold constructive discussions and debate the issue openly at the Diet.

Regarding the third supplementary budget proposal for fiscal 2020, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, which is the largest opposition party, called for eliminating some of the fiscal spending, such as ¥1 trillion earmarked for the Go to Travel tourism promotion campaign, and redistributing the funds to deal with more urgent issues.

That supplementary budget proposal was compiled before a state of emergency was declared in 11 prefectures. The central government should efficiently implement the budget by sufficiently determining the infection situation in each region and carefully deciding the timing of the resumption of the Go to Travel campaign.

In order for measures against the coronavirus to be more effective, it is important for each business and individual to be fully convinced by the government’s policy and take action.

As there have been many times in his replies at the Diet in which the prime minister has stated his conclusions tersely, even some within the ruling parties think that he has inadequately explained the reasons for policy decisions. The prime minister must thoroughly use all possible words to obtain public understanding.