Govt, political parties must deepen debate over spread of infections

Infections with the novel coronavirus have been spreading rapidly. The government and the ruling and opposition parties should seriously discuss how to stem infections and maintain social and economic activities.

Basic interpellations concerning the budget plan for fiscal 2022 have started at the Budget Committee of the House of Representatives.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said: “It is important to ensure that the expanded medical system continues to work. In addition, we want to strengthen the stages from prevention, detection to early treatment, and expedite responses with the right emphasis on key points, based on the particular characteristics of the omicron variant.”

Kishida also emphasized that the government intends to work to increase the production of pulse oximeters, which measure oxygen levels in the blood, as a measure to help infected patients who are recuperating at home.

With the spread of the omicron variant, quasi-emergency special measures that have been so far applied to 16 prefectures are likely to be expanded to 34 prefectures in total, including Hokkaido and Osaka.

To maintain the functions of society, prefectural governors and others have called on the central government to further shorten the period during which people who had close contact with infected persons are required to stay at home.

However, Kishida only said, “We’ll give continued consideration to a more practical length of time for that purpose,” a statement that left much to be desired. The government needs to take prompt action based on overseas cases and scientific analysis.

A situation has continued in which PCR tests and other medical examinations are not promptly available. To shorten the length of time that infected people stay at home and the isolation period for close contacts, it is essential to establish a system that allows people to receive tests at any time. The reason why such testing has not increased must be investigated, and immediate action taken to solve the problem.

Yoko Kamikawa, a lawmaker of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, called for a remedy to the problem of divorced single parents not receiving the equivalent of ¥100,000 in benefits for their children under 18.

The prime minister immediately expressed an intention to consider reviewing the situation, which was a reasonable response. It is desirable to switch to a way of providing the benefits based on specific situations, so that support is reliably delivered to those in need.

Addressing the government’s measures against the coronavirus, Kenta Izumi, leader of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition party, said, “It’s unreasonable that various restrictions are imposed only on dining establishments.” However, former CDPJ leader Yukio Edano had advocated a “zero coronavirus” approach and had strongly argued that the government should implement thorough measures to contain the spread of the virus. The party should clarify its policy direction.

Concerning the issue of the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry altering statistical data, Izumi pointed out that the budget for construction statistics has been decreasing in recent years, and stressed that such funding should be increased.

Kishida responded that the alterations were “extremely regrettable,” expressing his intention to strive to restore trust in statistics, including developing human resources to that end. Data has been growing in importance. There is an urgent need to strengthen the system related to statistics.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Jan. 25, 2022.