The Japanese government will suspend its "Go To Travel" domestic tourism subsidy campaign nationwide from Dec. 28 to Jan. 11. Just before that decision, it also removed coronavirus hotspots Tokyo and Nagoya as "Go To" destinations, and asked residents of those cities to refrain from traveling to other parts of the country using the program.
These moves, the government says, will reduce the number of people moving around the country and tamp down the spread of the coronavirus, and thus reduce the load on Japan's medical institutions.
Earlier, the government declared a "win or lose three weeks" in the battle to prevent infections from spreading further. This policy push has produced absolutely no results that we can see. Japan's daily new case numbers continue to climb to record highs. The Go To campaign suspension decision was made only after the government was backed into a corner, and comes far too late.
If the administration of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga really wants to turn the situation around for the end-of-year and New Year's holidays, then it should halt Go To immediately, and then only restart the program once infections are under control.
An expert subcommittee advising the government has previously called for places with surging case numbers to be excluded from the travel subsidies, on both the departing and receiving ends. The Suga administration, however, only removed the cities of Osaka and Sapporo from Go To eligibility. For Tokyo, which has the most coronavirus cases of any prefecture in Japan, it only requested that the elderly and people with chronic health conditions refrain from using the program.
We wonder if the quickly worsening coronavirus situation in Japan isn't down to the government's economy-first attitude and the way it has spooned out its infection countermeasures in dribs and drabs. The way policy is supposed to be created is, experts issue recommendations based on scientific analysis and then the government reflects those recommendations in its coronavirus countermeasures. But this structure is not functioning.
Prime Minister Suga stated during a recent appearance on a video sharing site that the scientific experts "have said that there is no infection risk from moving around" the country. This stands in complete contradiction to his government's decision to suspend the Go To campaign over the winter holiday. What's more, the administration has no convincing explanation for its abrupt change of course.
If Suga is issuing these pronouncements simply because Go To Travel is his pet policy project, untethered from any kind of evidence, that would also be a problem.
Economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who also oversees coronavirus policy, has called on the people of Japan "to share a sense of crisis" over the pandemic. However, it was the very government he is a part of that pushed the Go To campaign forward as an economic stimulus measure even as coronavirus case numbers swelled.
Put another way, he was shifting responsibility for fueling infections onto the Japanese people, even as he was stepping on the gas. We have very deep doubts over how far he understands his responsibility to protect the people's health.
In a recent Mainichi Shimbun opinion survey, 67% of respondents stated that the Go To Travel campaign should be suspended. Public support for the Suga Cabinet is also crashing.
This administration has caused coronavirus cases to surge in Japan by failing to heed expert advice honestly, and responding to the situation far too late. And for this, its responsibility is grave indeed.