National

Diet plenary session attendance cut for first time amid virus crisis

Kyodo, Jiji

In an unprecedented move, the House of Representatives on Tuesday held a plenary session with a reduced number of lawmakers attending to reduce the risk of infection amid the coronavirus crisis.

It was the first such case under the current Constitution, according to the Lower House secretariat.

Out of the 465 seats in the chamber, 230 lawmakers remained in the session while others left after the Lower House voted on government personnel matters. Those who left the chamber viewed the session from their respective offices through a livestream.

During the session, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said a supplementary budget draft to finance an emergency economic package aimed at cushioning the fallout from the virus crisis will be submitted to the Diet next week.

Abe said the package — worth ¥108 trillion, equivalent to about 20 percent of gross domestic product — is "one of the world's biggest" and defended the country's response to the pandemic as not lagging behind other countries.

Abe also defended the government's decision to distribute two cloth masks to every household nationwide, saying it is "very effective" in meeting rapidly increasing demand for masks.

Abe's mask policy, dubbed "Abenomask," a play on his economic policy mix called Abenomics, has been a target of public outrage at a time when businesses and households are calling for immediate cash handouts to help reduce financial difficulties.

The decision to cut the number of lawmakers' attendance at Diet sessions was reached between ruling and opposition party executives Monday.

Hiroshi Moriyama, Diet affairs chief of the Liberal Democratic Party, and Jun Azumi, Diet affairs head of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, reached the accord after a secretary to an LDP lawmaker was confirmed to be infected with the virus.

During Monday's meeting, the ruling and opposition parties also agreed to cut the daily number of Diet committee meetings.

The government has set a target of reducing human-to-human contact in the country by 80 percent in a bid to contain the coronavirus crisis.

In line with the goal, the ruling and opposition sides will adjust the number of Diet committee meetings per day to reduce the daily number of Lower House lawmakers showing up to about 90, accounting for about 20 percent of Lower House seats.

After the meeting with Azumi, Moriyama told reporters that he wants to make sure that lawmakers' committee attendance will be cut by 70 to 80 percent as a whole in the Diet. Azumi said he and Moriyama agreed that the Diet needs to take the lead in reaching the contact reduction target.

The secretariat for the Lower House said Monday that a secretary in his 60s to Lower House member Jiro Hatoyama of the LDP and a Lower House employee in his 50s have tested positive for the coronavirus.

On Tuesday, LDP lawmaker Toshimitsu Funahashi said a member of his family has tested positive for the coronavirus.

The family member, who lives with Funahashi in a Tokyo apartment for Diet members, has only displayed mild symptoms. The lawmaker himself has not shown any signs of illness but will refrain from attending Diet sessions for the time being, he said.

"We will fully cooperate with the public health center's investigation" into infection routes, Funahashi said in a statement.

The apartment in Tokyo's Minato Ward was disinfected Monday night, with the family member suspected to have contracted the virus at work.

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