National

In Japan, refusal to follow coronavirus requests could become a crime

Jiji, Kyodo

Japan is considering a package of law revisions to step up its fight against the coronavirus by strengthening the authorities of central and prefectural governments, such as introducing punishment for those refusing to follow business suspension or quarantine orders, government sources said Thursday.

The legislation will be submitted to the Diet no later than next year’s ordinary session, according to the sources.

The package is expected to include amendments to the revised special measures law to fight new strains of influenza, as well as the quarantine and immunization laws.

Under the current system, prefectural governments issue business suspension requests and orders after arrangements with the central government, based on the new influenza law. But such requests and orders are often ignored as the law stipulates no enforcement measures such as penalties.

In early May, governments of prefectures including Hyogo, Kanagawa, Niigata, Chiba and Fukuoka issued business suspension orders to pachinko parlors which in turn ignored repeated requests to shut down to prevent further spread of coronavirus and continued to operate even after their names were disclosed.

Some pachinko parlors, however, continued operation, and even those that followed the orders resumed operation after business closure requests for other commercial facilities were relaxed.

The central government is considering introducing penalties for failures to follow prefectural governments’ business suspension orders, which would be meted out after on-site inspections by local public health offices.

But the government may find it hard to build a consensus on the penalization. Many people say that measures to enforce business suspension should come with compensation.

The legislation would also give the central government clear legal authority to directly give health offices instructions related to the implementation of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for the coronavirus.

This measure is being considered in response to complaints from many that health offices became dysfunctional, overwhelmed by heavy workloads linked to PCR tests.

The quarantine law would be amended to make it clear that those who do not follow requests to stand by for quarantine at airports will be subject to punishment.

The government will also consider revising the immunization law to prepare for the expected use of coronavirus vaccines. The revision would allow the government to give instructions directly to municipal governments that carry out vaccination.

The government hopes to introduce the legislation as quickly as possible. It will submit the package in the next year’s ordinary Diet session if no extraordinary session takes place this autumn.

Meanwhile, other sources have said the government plans to hold the first new subcommittee meeting to discuss measures to fight the coronavirus on Tuesday.

The subcommittee, set to replace an expert panel that has advised the central government until very recently, is expected to consist of at least 15 members, including National Institute of Infectious Diseases chief Takaji Wakita as chair of the panel and Shigeru Omi, the panel’s deputy chair and president of the Japan Community Health Care Organization, the sources said.

On June 24, economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who handles coronavirus response measures, announced the expert panel’s breakup and creation of the subcommittee.

In fact, Nishimura made the announcement in front of the media exactly as the panel was holding a separate news conference to call for its role to be redefined, with Wakita saying the panel seemed to have given the impression that it, rather than the government, was determining policy.

The abrupt announcement drew strong backlash particularly from Komeito, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s coalition partner, which had proposed the government set up the expert panel.

At a party meeting on Wednesday, Komeito Secretary-General Tetsuo Saito criticized the government’s decision to scrap the panel without any consultation with the coalition partner in advance. “You’ve gone against the Japanese people’s expectations,” he told Nishimura.

Nishimura apologized for failing to make sufficient prior explanations on the move to members of the party and others concerned.

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