Pay attention to facts on the ground in drawing up coronavirus measures

Urging people to take measures that have been devised through deskbound discussions without paying attention to the actual situation on the ground will not secure public cooperation. The government must listen to the voices of relevant parties and take effective measures to prevent the spread of novel coronavirus infections.

There has been confusion regarding the government’s coronavirus measures. The government issued a notice to liquor distributors asking them to suspend trade with eating and drinking establishments that ignore requests to stop serving alcohol, but it was forced to withdraw the notice due to opposition from relevant industries.

Although dining with alcoholic drinks is seen to be one factor behind the spread of infections, it was an excessive move to ask the wholesalers to suspend business without any legal grounds. Not only is the move’s effectiveness unclear, but such a request would further drive business operators into a corner when they are already suffering from a decline in sales. It is understandable that the notice was rescinded.

Yasutoshi Nishimura, minister in charge of economic revitalization, announced a similar plan to ask financial institutions to pressure restaurants and bars to follow the government request to prevent the spread of infections. However, the minister took back his words the next day.

Pressure from financial institutions that provide financing to businesses can amount to abuse of a dominant bargaining position, a violation of the Antimonopoly Law. Such an authoritarian approach is extremely inappropriate and unacceptable.

During deliberations of the House of Representatives Cabinet Committee held while the Diet is out of session, Masato Imai, a lawmaker of the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, said that the government had a heavy responsibility and called for Nishimura to resign.

Nishimura apologized for causing confusion among business operators, but refused to resign, saying, “I would like to fulfill my responsibility by doing the best I can to prevent the spread of infections.”

The question remains whether Nishimura had coordinated with relevant Cabinet ministers in making the decision. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said that he “did not know the specific details.” It is irresponsible for Finance Minister Taro Aso and Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshi Kajiyama to criticize Nishimura only later. Their stance, which seems to be putting all the blame on Nishimura, is questionable.

If the government’s coronavirus measures are called into question, its requests to the public to take infection prevention measures will have little effect. The government should sincerely reflect on its actions and strive to regain public trust.

The opposition parties also brought up the issue of vaccine shortages at local governments, which have forced many municipalities to stop accepting vaccination reservations.

Taro Kono, minister in charge of administrative reform and also the vaccine rollout, apologized and said, “We should have presented a detailed supply plan at an earlier stage.”

The confusion was exacerbated by the government’s failure to present a clear outlook for a vaccine supply while at the same time it urged municipalities to expand their vaccination programs. The central government needs to share information with local governments and promote the vaccination rollout more smoothly.

Infection cases are on an increasing trend in Tokyo, Osaka and other areas. The ruling and opposition parties should make active use of deliberations held while the Diet is out of session, along with other means, to draw up effective coronavirus measures, instead of using them only to hold Cabinet ministers accountable for their blunders.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on July 16, 2021.