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Japan minister's ignorance of revised coronavirus death toll slammed by opposition head

Minister of Health, Labor and Welfare Katsunobu Kato answers a question during a House of Councillors Budget Committee session on May 11, 2020. (Mainichi/Kan Takeuchi)

TOKYO -- An opposition party leader rapped Minister of Health, Labor and Welfare Katsunobu Kato for stating he wasn't aware of the number of deaths from the novel coronavirus in Tokyo having been revised from 19 to 171, during a House of Representatives Budget Committee session on May 11.

Yuichiro Tamaki, head of the Democratic Party for the People, asked health minister Kato if the media reports that the number of coronavirus deaths for Tokyo were significantly revised in the ministry's tally were true. Kato replied, "I don't know as I haven't seen them (the reports)." When Tamaki, apparently appalled, pushed on asking, "Don't you know the fact that the figure has been corrected to 171?" Kato then responded, "What kind of news reports and from when are you talking about?" The minister's reply produced an apparently tense atmosphere across the committee room.

The health ministry on May 9 changed the methodology for tallying figures representing the country's novel coronavirus infection status on May 9. While the ministry had previously tallied up the number of coronavirus cases one by one based on reports from prefectural governments, it altered the method and began to refer to the websites of each prefecture because some local bodies had stopped reporting their coronavirus cases from late March, when the number of infections in Japan spiked. At one point, it was stated that the presence of symptoms of over 5,000 people were "being confirmed," making the ministry's tally quite detached from the reality.

As a result, the number of coronavirus deaths for Tokyo as of May 8 was revised from 19 to 171 in the ministry's tally. While the figure "171" had already been covered by the media, some news organizations reported that "the ministry has significantly revised the number of deaths," triggering a slew of online posts critical of the government.

Tamaki blasted the government during the lower house budget panel meeting, saying, "In order to decide whether to lift the state of emergency (over the coronavirus), it is important to examine how the number of coronavirus tests and the positive rates, as well as the number of infections and deaths have changed. (Kato's response shows that) accurate information has not been gathered at the center of the administration. Are the state's decisions all right?"

(Japanese original by Jun Aoki, Political News Department, and Sooryeon Kim, Lifestyle and Medical News Department)

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