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PM Suga admits shortcomings in Japan's COVID-19 care

In this Jan. 18, 2021 file photo, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga attends an ordinary Diet session at the upper house of parliament in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Tuesday admitted Japan's medical system has been ill-prepared to deal with the surge in COVID-19 patients, acknowledging that more lives may have been saved had proper treatment been available.

    The rare admission of fault comes as public support for Suga's administration continues to dwindle amid mounting dissatisfaction with his pandemic response.

    Asked by opposition lawmaker Kiyomi Tsujimoto in a House of Representatives committee meeting whether he felt responsible for COVID-19 patients that died at home after being turned away from hospitals, Suga said "as the one in charge, I feel terribly sorry."

    "We have not been able to provide the necessary care, and I recognize that because of this the Japanese people are feeling anxious," Suga said.

    The Tokyo metropolitan government reported on Tuesday 1,026 new cases of the novel coronavirus, with the count exceeding 1,000 for the first time in three days.

    The capital has seen four-digit daily increases almost every day since entering January, but the figures have been trending downward in recent days as people have been urged not to go outside unnecessarily and restaurants asked to shorten their opening hours under a state of emergency. Tokyo's cumulative cases now stand at 95,534. The nationwide tally reported on Tuesday was around 3,850.

    Concern over the strain on the medical system persists, with the number of serious cases hovering around 150 and a notable increase in cases of people dying at home.

    Speaking at the meeting of the lower house Budget Committee, Suga said that while he is aware of "various concerns" among the public over this summer's Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, he is determined to continue preparations to hold a "safe and secure" games with the necessary coronavirus measures in place.

    Suga meanwhile dismissed calls from the opposition to rework a nearly 20 trillion yen ($190 billion) supplementary budget for fiscal 2020 set to be enacted this week.

    The spending plan includes more than 1 trillion yen for the government's "Go To Travel" subsidy program, which was meant to spur domestic tourism but was suspended after Suga declared a one-month state of emergency in the Tokyo metropolitan area on Jan. 7, later expanded to cover 11 of Japan's 47 prefectures.

    Suga also said he is not planning a repeat of last year's distribution of a 100,000 yen ($960) stimulus to each of Japan's 126 million residents, saying the government is taking more targeted steps to keep businesses going and protect jobs.

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