Japan may introduce orders and punishments for businesses that fail to meet business suspension requests as part of a revision to a special measures law to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, according to economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura.
Nishimura said he is in talks with the Cabinet Legislation Bureau over the possible revision.
“There are things that should be rushed, and there are things that should be discussed calmly,” Nishimura said in a recent interview. “The special measures law should be used in other ways (such as when other infectious diseases spread in the future), and it should be considered calmly.”
“We will swiftly consider including business suspension orders and penalties” in the possible law revision, the minister said.
Nishimura suggested that the provision of compensation to businesses that comply with suspension requests will not be included in the law, as it is technically difficult and many countries around the world are not doing so.
“We are in effect already providing compensation,” he said, noting that the government is offering a variety of subsidies related to the virus response.
He said the COVID-19 epidemic was the first case for which the special measures law was invoked, thus creating confusion over how the central and local governments should balance responsibilities.
“The business suspension request initially considered by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government in April was in every sense of the word a ‘lockdown,’ covering a variety of sectors,” Nishimura said. “There were sectors that were necessary for everyday life, so we spent time discussing (with the metropolitan government).”
He fought back against criticism by Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike that the central government impeded Tokyo’s coronavirus prevention efforts.
“Gov. Koike said that she ‘thought she was the boss but heard the voice of the heavens,’ but from my perspective it’s the voice of law,” Nishimura quipped. “Suspension requests should be considered with the fact that it restricts private rights, so I took action as someone responsible for executing the policy.”
“I have accountability over the declaration and lifting of a state of emergency,” the minister added. “Deciding to which industries business suspension requests are issued is under the authority of governors, so I hope they fulfill their accountability.”
Nishimura said that tweaking the balance of responsibilities with municipalities in the special measures law revision will lead to many discussions with local governments, and doing so now will lead to further confusion.
On whether there should be a headquarters for disease response similar to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the minister said that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe serves as the top commander for Japan’s response, with Nishimura, health minister Katsunobu Kato and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga attending liaison meetings and coordinating government policies.
“There are discussions about creating a Japanese version of the CDC,” he said. “But are U.S. measures working so well?” he asked.
He also added that boosting the National Institute of Infectious Diseases is a major issue that needs to be considered.
“Japanese public health centers, which are of the highest quality in the world, are lacking funds and personnel,” Nishimura said. “We should expand them and create a system in which information can be shared in real time between the central government, prefectures and municipalities.”
On Saturday, Nishimura also said the government plans to seek opinions from experts on cross-border travel between prefectures amid the new coronavirus crisis ahead of the summer holiday season.
The next meeting of a government task force to combat the crisis will be an opportunity to hear from experts, Nishimura told a news conference Saturday.
The government’s handling of the Go To Travel tourism promotion campaign, which encourages travel between prefectures, may also be on the agenda at a meeting to be held as early as this week.
The government lifted its restriction advisory on travel across prefectural borders on June 19. But the recent spread of the virus triggered some prefectural governments to ask people not to make such trips.
On Friday, the government Okinawa Prefecture declared a state of emergency on its own, calling on people planning to visit from other prefectures to “take careful consideration” when deciding to do so.
A lot of citizens are expected to visit their parents’ homes in August, and the “Bon” summer holiday period is approaching, Nishimura said. “We’ll seek opinions about that in the next meeting while looking at the current situation on infections.”
Before the news conference, Nishimura talked by phone with Aichi Gov. Hideaki Omura and Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki.
Also on Saturday, Omura said the Aichi Prefectural Government will request restaurants in downtown districts to suspend operations if they are deemed to be not taking adequate measures to prevent infections.