Kishida rules out early revision to infectious disease law

TOKYO (Jiji Press) — Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida suggested Sunday that the government will stop short of submitting a bill to revise the infectious disease law to allow stronger steps against the novel coronavirus during the coming ordinary session of parliament.

“We will sort out medium- and long-term challenges by June,” Kishida said on a program of Fuji Television Network Inc. The ordinary session of parliament, to be convened on Jan. 17, will run for 150 days through June.

The law revision is aimed at enabling more powerful measures to secure medical workers and hospital beds for COVID-19 patients. Kishida apparently hopes to prevent the bill, which would involve restrictions on rights, from becoming a bone of contention in parliament in the run-up to the triennial election for the House of Councillors, the upper chamber of parliament, this summer.

On concerns that the spread of the omicron variant of the coronavirus may reduce the availability of hospital beds, Kishida said the government will focus for the time being on ensuring that beds currently available are put to use.

He also said the government will conduct reviews as needed on its control tower functions to address an infectious disease crisis and its collaborations with local governments.

Appearing on a program of public broadcaster Japan Broadcasting Corp., or NHK, later on Sunday, Kishida said Japan and the United States have reached an agreement in principle not to allow U.S. military personnel in Japan to go out for nonessential reasons, after a large number of coronavirus infection cases were confirmed at U.S. military bases in the country.

U.S. bases are suspected sources of spikes in infection cases in Okinawa, Yamaguchi and Hiroshima prefectures, which were designated for COVID-19 pre-emergency measures, effective Sunday.

Kishida ruled out a revision to the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement, which governs U.S. military personnel stationed in Japan. He said he has instructed relevant government officials to hold in-depth discussions on health and hygiene issues at the Japan-U.S. joint committee discussing the implementation of the agreement.