Japan government eyes creation of health crisis management agency

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The Kasumigaseki district in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward, home to most of Japan’s government offices

The government may include the creation of a health crisis management agency in measures to be announced this month to drastically strengthen infection-related crisis management, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

Drawing on the lessons learned during the pandemic, the government aims to unify various government functions to deal with new infectious diseases. It aims to submit a bill to create the new agency to an ordinary Diet session next year.

According to several government sources, the offices to be unified under the new agency would include the Cabinet Secretariat’s office for the promotion of measures to cope with novel coronavirus infections and the Health, Labor, and Welfare Ministry’s headquarters for the promotion of countermeasures against infections.

Currently, the Cabinet Secretariat’s office is responsible for declaring an infection-related state of emergency and formulating the government’s basic policy in response to the novel coronavirus. The ministry’s headquarters handle specific infection prevention measures and the medical system.

It has been pointed out that the two organizations’ tasks overlap in many areas, which “has hindered rapid response to the novel coronavirus,” a government official said. Some have also said the lack of coordination between the Cabinet Secretariat and the ministry delayed the response.

The government is considering unifying other related departments as well. It will work out in the future details such as whether the new agency should be an external bureau of the Cabinet Office and other entities, or whether it should be an independent agency.

Establishing a health crisis management agency was one of the campaign pledges by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in the Liberal Democratic Party presidential election in September. Kishida promised to examine the government’s coronavirus response and decide on measures to strengthen infection-related crisis management by June.

A panel of experts examining matters pertaining to the government’s response to the novel coronavirus is scheduled to compile its recommendations this month, which will include a review of government organizations.