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Japan PM Abe, deputy Aso to avoid same meetings due to coronavirus threat to gov't

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, fourth from left, is seen with a mask on at the meeting of the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy, at the prime minister's office on March 31, 2020. All attendees are seen wearing masks in a bid to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus. (Mainichi/Masahiro Kawata)

TOKYO -- Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso will skip the next coronavirus countermeasures headquarters meeting in an effort to prevent the virus from spreading among key leaders in Japan's government, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a March 31 Cabinet meeting.

The aim is to avoid Abe and Aso, the No. 1 and 2 figures in the government, coming into close contact with each other and succumbing to the virus at the same time -- which would pose a risk to the proper functioning of the Japanese government.

It was also decided that ministers, state ministers and parliamentary vice-ministers in each ministry would be divided into A and B groups, which would then attend meetings alternately, to prevent the highest-ranked officials from becoming infected at the same time. A plan to distance seats and require all attendees to wear masks was also presented at the Cabinet meeting. Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi furthermore suggested holding teleconferences in place of face-to-face meetings.

Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Akihiro Nishimura told a press conference held later that day, "Some have pointed out that the (social distancing) situation at the novel coronavirus countermeasures headquarters is too close." He added, "So we decided to take these measures as ways to prevent the spread of infections and as risk management."

All attendees wore masks to the meeting of the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy held that evening.

On March 30, the Press Office of the prime minister's office had asked the Cabinet Press Club to limit the number of reporters covering Abe at the novel coronavirus countermeasures headquarters meetings to one person per news organization, and required that they all put on masks.

From March 31, the Ministry of Defense switched Minister Taro Kono's press conferences to a larger room, and widened the distance between the seats. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not change its conference room, but asked news outlets to limit the number of their reporters to one or two.

(Japanese original by Kenta Miyahara, Political News Department)

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