Kishida must take initiative in fight against pandemic to boost economy

For a vision of the future to be mapped out, the spread of the novel coronavirus in the country must be contained. The government needs to deal swiftly with the pandemic and take every possible measure to revive the economy.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida delivered his policy speech to both chambers of the Diet. “First of all, we will devote all our efforts to beating the novel coronavirus,” he said.

The highly contagious omicron coronavirus variant has been rapidly spreading. It is important for the prime minister to exercise his leadership and take preemptive steps to prevent a serious situation from occurring.

Regarding how to respond to the omicron variant, Kishida said, “Without undue fear, [the government] will calmly move forward with responses based on the latest findings,” expressing his intention to intensively handle the securing of hospital beds for COVID-19 patients.

The government should avoid repeatedly declaring a state of emergency when the nation’s medical system is being put under strain by the pandemic. It is urgent for the central and local governments to devise ways to maintain the system to provide medical care services, through measures such as sending support personnel to areas where more nurses are absent from work and increasing the number of medical institutions that offer health examinations to infected people who are recuperating at home.

Kishida also emphasized that even after a policy has been decided, it can be flexibly revised if necessary. He probably has in mind policy changes including a review of the criteria for being discharged from the hospital, which in principle is 10 days after the onset of symptoms. It is essential to make decisions based on the characteristics of the virus.

The government has considered revising the Infectious Diseases Control Law to strengthen the authority of the central and local governments to secure hospital beds, but it is unlikely to submit the bill during the current Diet session.

It is regrettable if the central government intends to avoid a confrontation between the ruling and opposition parties in light of the upcoming House of Councillors election this summer. Weak administrative authority over private hospitals has long been pointed out. The government should immediately present measures to improve the situation in this regard and ask opposition parties for cooperation.

As a growth strategy for his signature policy of a “new form of capitalism,” Kishida said he will work on vitalization of local communities and economic security through digitization.

It is vital to boost economic growth and strengthen redistribution of wealth by getting private enterprises to raise wages, among other steps. However, his signature policy lacks concrete measures and persuasiveness.

Kishida also stressed his intention to focus on developing clean energy and tackling measures to fight climate change. His energy policies merely list points of contention and leave the examination of the contents to future discussions, leaving much to be desired.

As for Japan-China relations, Kishida said the government will “steadily continue dialogue with China, including on pending issues,” keeping in mind that this year marks the 50th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Without missing any opportunities, Kishida should clearly express his concerns over China’s military expansion, hegemonic behavior and human rights issues and urge Beijing to make improvements.

North Korea has repeatedly test-fired missiles. Japan should not only speed up efforts to strengthen its defense capabilities, but also strongly urge North Korea to exercise self-restraint in cooperation with nations including the United States.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Jan. 18, 2022.