Questions from the heads of Japanese political parties in response to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's policy speech have begun. Under contestation during the proceedings is how ruling and opposition parties can contend with the worsening state of coronavirus infections.
Yukio Edano, representative for the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP), didn't fixate on issues concerning what is known in the country as "politics and money scandals," instead devoting a majority of his questions to coronavirus countermeasure issues. He pushed the prime minister to acknowledge the government's response to the rise in infections including calling another state of emergency fell behind, and sought a further strengthening of efforts to contain the spread.
Suga did not agree that his administration had been slow. He hit back, saying, "I don't think the response was slowed down by baseless optimism." But the prime minister didn't offer an explanation as to why the "Go To" subsidy campaign promoting domestic tourism had continued operating despite infections refusing to die out.
Why, then, has the Japanese government not been able to prevent the third wave of infections? Could it be that the situation has been influenced by the Suga administration's stance of prioritizing the economy? Doubts remain over whether effective countermeasures can be taken without verification and reflection.
Another issue is the third supplementary budget. Because it was drawn up before the government called the state of emergency, the allocated funds to measures preventing the spread of infections are small. The budget assigns 1 trillion yen (about $9.66 billion) to the extended Go To travel campaign, and another 3 trillion yen (some $28.98 billion) to initiatives including the national resilience policy to improve the country's preparedness against natural disasters.
Edano called for the withdrawal of funds earmarked for the Go To campaign, and for their reallocation to coronavirus prevention measures. The prime minister rejected the calls to alter the budget's structure on the basis that reserve funds had already been secured. Isn't now a time to concentrate budgetary spending on a response to a crisis? The government should look into adopting a flexible response.
Regarding the pressure on the country's health care system, Edano proposed full compensation ahead of time for medical institutions incurring costs for accepting COVID-19 patients and losing income as a result. He also sought approval for proposals to again issue bonuses for the hard work of medical professionals, which were put forward by four opposition parties.
In response to this, too, Prime Minister Suga did not offer positive remarks.
Meanwhile, Suga's responses to questions on the timing to lift the state of emergency and other issues saw him quite conspicuously repeating statements he has already made at press conferences and in his policy speech. We feel compelled to call out the prime minister's lack of a sense of urgency that he must quickly quell infections even if it means taking on board the opposition parties' proposals.
The National Diet has not been open for sessions for more than 40 days, since December 2020 when infection rates were already climbing again, raising public distrust.
The Suga administration should not be restrained by customs and preserving face, and listen earnestly to the opposition parties' proposals. Debate in the Diet must be used to the benefit of coronavirus prevention efforts.