Will Japan Revise Law to Punish Businesses that don’t Comply with Requests for Virus Control Measures?

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Jun Azumi, left, chairperson of the Diet Affairs Committee of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, sits with his Liberal Democratic Party counterpart, Hiroshi Moriyama, in the Diet on Thursday.

A bill to amend the special measures law to cope with new strains of influenza is expected to be passed in the next Diet session, with the main focus to be whether to include penalties for businesses that fail to comply with requests to close or shorten their operating hours to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The government is hurrying to finalize the details of the amendment before submitting it to the Diet.

A government subcommittee on coronavirus countermeasures began discussing revisions on Dec. 23. Under the current special measures law, prefectural governors can ask restaurants and other establishments to close or shorten their hours. However, there are no provisions that state whether prefectural governments can provide financial assistance to businesses that comply. The subcommittee thinks support for restaurants should be specified, to increase the effectiveness of the measures.

The special measures law also does not specify penalties for businesses that fail to cooperate with requests. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has stated that support measures and penalties “need to be provided together.” Without it, the measures will not be effective, Suga believes.

The National Governors’ Association has also called for the introduction of penalties. “It’s important to give local governments more power,” Miyagi Gov. Yoshihiro Murai said at a meeting with Suga in Tokyo on Monday.

However, Article 5 of the special measures law states, “When restrictions are placed on the freedoms and rights of the people, they must be the absolute minimum to implement the measures.”

There is a strong consensus in the subcommittee that penalties should not be imposed. The amendment to the special measures law submitted to the Diet on Dec. 2 by the opposition parties, including the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and the Japanese Communist Party, incorporates compensation for businesses but not penalties.

The government hopes to hammer out the details of the amendment with the opposition parties at a liaison council meeting of the government, the ruling parties and the opposition expected to start as eary as Jan. 5.

“This will be a debate that will divide national opinion,” said Jun Azumi, chairperson of the CDPJ’s Diet Affairs Committee, to reporters on Monday. “Our stance is to first amend the portions where we are in agreement,” he said.

There is no guarantee that the government will be able to easily submit the amendment to the Diet as expected.