Govt Establishes Agency for Infectious Disease Management; Response to Future Pandemics to Be More Streamlined

Pool photo/The Yomiuri Shimbun
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, left, and Shigeyuki Goto, the economic revitalization minister, put up a sign that reads “Cabinet Agency for Infectious Disease Crisis Management” in Tokyo on Friday.

The government on Friday established the Cabinet Agency for Infectious Disease Crisis Management, which will serve as its command center in responding to pandemics.

Based on lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, the new agency is responsible for planning and coordinating the government’s response to infectious diseases in a unified manner.

In preparation for a possible future pandemic, the agency will revise the government action plan over a period of about one year.

The agency was established within the Cabinet Secretariat under the revised Cabinet Law that was enacted in April.

In normal times, 38 officials work for it, but in the event of an emergency, the number will be boosted to a maximum of about 300 officials, including those who will concurrently be in charge of work at related ministries and agencies.

Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Shunichi Kuryu heads the agency. Masami Sakoi has been appointed as the director in charge of infectious disease crisis management, which oversees administrative affairs. Sakoi currently serves as a medical and technical superintendent of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry. Shigeyuki Goto, the economic revitalization minister, is in charge of supervising the agency.

“It is the government’s mission to build a system to fully prepare for a potential future pandemic,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said at the agency’s inauguration ceremony on Friday.

Under the new system, extra officials will be dispatched to the agency from the relevant ministries and agencies in the event of outbreak of a pandemic.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the prime minister had to give instructions separately to various relevant entities — to the health ministry for medical system development and vaccine procurement, to the Foreign Ministry and the Justice Ministry for border control measures, and to the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry for coordination with local governments. The establishment of the agency is intended to pierce the vertical divisions between ministries and agencies, making it easier for the prime minister to effectively exert leadership.

The agency will work on the revision of the government action plan based on expert opinions.

In addition to planning how to provide medical services, the agency will likely revise plans for securing stable supplies of medicines and vaccines and standards for calling on the public to restrict social activities.

“It is important to expand the contents of how to prepare for a pandemic during normal times and to provide several specific scenarios for a possible pandemic,” said a senior government official.

With the establishment of the agency, the health ministry on Friday also set up the infectious diseases control department. It will be in charge of analyzing and testing for infectious diseases, providing vaccinations and supporting health centers during normal times to work in cooperation with the agency.

The government aims to create a Japanese version of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in fiscal 2025 at the earliest. The envisaged entity will advise the government based on scientific knowledge.

“It is undeniable that Japan lagged behind other countries in dealing with the novel coronavirus pandemic. It highlighted the lack of doctors who can deal with infectious diseases and health center workers who track infection routes,” said Kazuhiro Tateda, a professor of infectious diseases at Toho University. “It is important to prepare for emergencies by developing human resources from normal times so that sufficient hospital beds and testing systems can be secured in the event of an emergency.”