Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gave the nation a dire warning Saturday that it could see its hospitals overwhelmed and the death toll skyrocket if the coronavirus gets out of control, but pledged to draw up an economic relief package even bigger than the one used to sustain the economy during the 2008 global financial crisis.
Speaking from the Prime Minister’s Office, Abe noted in his third official coronavirus news conference that cases with untraceable infection routes are increasing particularly in cities such as Tokyo and Osaka, though he said Japan was not yet in an emergency situation.
“If a chain of uncontrollable infections occurs, the rate of infection could explode somewhere,” he said, adding that the volume of cases could balloon by more than 30 times in just two weeks.
“Unlike Europe and the United States, Japan is barely holding up. However, if we relax our vigilance even a little, it would not be surprising to see infections spread suddenly at any moment,” Abe said. “The people need to keep in mind that this will be a long fight.”
The prime minister’s tone was remarkably different and ominous Saturday, given the sharp rise in COVID-19 cases nationwide. More than 60 people tested positive for the disease in Tokyo alone Saturday, the biggest one-day jump reported so far.
The news conference came a day after the Diet cleared a record ¥102.66 trillion budget for fiscal 2020.
The government is now working to compile a supplementary budget to finance more economic measures that Abe pledged to get done in roughly 10 days.
“We’re going to compile an unprecedented level of economic measures that exceed those taken when the Lehman Brothers crisis occurred,” Abe said, referring to one of two major U.S. investment banks that failed during the collapse of the U.S. housing bubble.
In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, the government compiled a stimulus package of about ¥56 trillion, including about ¥15 trillion in fiscal measures.
The coronavirus package will include cash handouts for households and the expansion of zero-interest, no collateral loans to small and midsize businesses.
The prime minister also hinted at additional measures after the pandemic ends that would be designed to boost industries hit hardest by the pandemic’s repercussions, notably the tourism and restaurant industries.
Abe said the government will convene a panel of infectious disease experts next week to determine whether it is appropriate for the nation’s schools to reopen.
The education ministry released a guideline for schools last week calling on teachers to take such measures as opening windows to improve classroom ventilation. But Abe said that the situation is developing at a rapid pace and the government needs to respond accordingly.
The government recently laid the groundwork needed to declare a national state of emergency, creating a special task force. Abe urged the public to adhere to their leaders’ requests to stay home except for essential tasks to avoid a lockdown situation.
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