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The internal affairs ministry is expected to face the challenge of ensuring the accuracy of a national census, scheduled to begin Sept. 14, as it struggles to secure enough survey personnel to cover all households due to the novel coronavirus epidemic.

The upcoming census will be the 100th since the quinquennial survey in the country was first carried out in 1920.

At a related event in Tokyo on Tuesday, internal affairs minister Sanae Takaichi called on people to respond to the survey. “Data from the survey will become indispensable materials for tackling such issues as regional revitalization, as well as the aging of society and the sluggish birthrate,” she said. “I hope people will understand the importance of the survey and respond to it.”

The census covers all people living in Japan as of Oct. 1, asking their names, sex, dates of birth, employment statuses and other questions. It has been held every five years except in 1945, in the immediate aftermath of World War II.

The results of the survey will be used to re-zone single-seat constituencies for the House of Representatives and calculate the amounts of the central government’s tax revenue grants to local governments, among other purposes.

Data from the survey is also used by private entities, such as convenience store operators when they plan new store launches.

The ministry initially sought to secure 700,000 survey personnel for the upcoming census. But its recruitment activities did not go smoothly amid the coronavirus crisis, with many elderly people withdrawing their applications for the job due to concerns about infection.

As a result, the ministry is expected to field only about 610,000 people for the survey.

However, a ministry official said it was within expectations that the number of census takers would fall below the target.

The ministry will deal with the shortage by having each personnel take charge of two or more survey districts through, for example, extending the period for distributing survey forms. A census taker is usually assigned one district. Each district comprises about 50 households.

The ministry will also call on people to respond to the census online, which is seen to be less of a burden on survey staff and more accurate than through the collection of paper census forms. It aims to have half of all respondents submit their responses online.

To reduce the risk of infection with the coronavirus, census personnel will try to avoid contact with survey participants as much as possible, such as refraining from meeting face-to-face with them, when visiting their homes between Sept. 14 and 30 to explain the survey and ask them to make sure to respond to it.

Instead, the staff members will speak with the residents over the intercom, and the survey forms will be left in their mailboxes.

The deadline for submitting census responses is Oct. 7. It will likely be extended for regions that are suffering from especially large outbreaks of the coronavirus and were damaged by torrential rains in July.

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