Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Friday evening revealed little new information about how his administration will fight to reduce the number of coronavirus patients, instead allotting most of the time during a 50-minute news conference for economic recovery measures and policy interests unrelated to public health.
During the news conference at the Prime Minister’s Office, Suga refrained from calling for tougher measures that would restrict the movement of people, but largely reiterated his administration’s efforts such as partially rolling back the Go To Travel and the Go To Eat stimulus programs and urging the public to maintain personal hygiene.
As anticipated, he made clear that those programs he helped engineer would not be rolled back completely as he said they are essential to sustaining the economy in regional areas.
The customary news conference held at the end of parliamentary sessions was the first time Suga spoke in front of reporters for longer than five minutes in roughly 1½ months. His reluctance to speak in front of the camera despite soaring COVID-19 cases nationwide drew the ire of some critics and opposition lawmakers
He renewed his pledge to bolster support for hospitals, elderly care homes and public health centers where virus tests are conducted, in addition to hotels where patients with lighter symptoms are treated and health care facilities for those with serious conditions.
He also said the government will secure ¥1.5 trillion in regional revitalization subsidies to support restaurants that comply with requests to shorten business hours to curb the spread of the contagion.
As for the vaccine, he announced government preparations are underway to immediately inoculate those who need it the most “while prioritizing safety and effectiveness,” but declined to say when that will become possible. Suga himself said he would like to get vaccinated after letting medical professionals go first.
“The highly alarming situation is still ongoing,” Suga said. “The government’s largest responsibility is to protect the lives and the livelihood of the citizens.”
Strictly sticking to a script and reading it aloud in even tones, he reiterated his past statements regarding his decision to reject six academics from being appointed to the Science Council of Japan, an unprecedented move that unleashed a torrent of criticism from opposition lawmakers and academics during the 41-day Diet session.
Even on Friday evening, he refused to say why his administration broke with precedent but confessed, with a humorless smile, that he had anticipated the backlash against his decision.
It was evidently clear that what he wanted to talk about most was how to put the country’s economy, hit by the once-in-a-century global health crisis, back on track, as well as his policy ambitions.
Hinting that his new economic stimulus package is set to be approved next week, the prime minister laid out that the government will extend extraordinary measures to employment subsidies and the nation’s financing with neither interest nor collateral. For single-parent family households with low incomes, Suga said the government will distribute ¥50,000 per household and ¥30,000 per additional child by the end of the year.
“Through these measures, I hope the people will make it through this current difficult situation, and I hope they will be a stepping stone for economic recovery,” Suga said.
He then shifted gears to elaborate on projects he is passionate about such as facilitating digitalization and lowering cell phone bills. He also pledged to set up a ¥2 trillion fund to spur green research and investments for achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.
On boosting support for infertility treatment, Suga unveiled that national insurance will start covering costs by 2022, which will also include medical care for men. Until then, he said, the government will remove income restrictions on receiving a subsidy and increase the maximum allotment.
The prime minister also mentioned his diplomatic achievements so far, including his first meeting with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to advance the bilateral “special strategic partnership.” He also mentioned a teleconference with U.S. President-elect Joe Biden where they reaffirmed Japan-U.S. ties and cooperation toward a free and open Indo-Pacific.
“We, as a nation, are resolved to lead by pushing for unity and specific cooperation within international society, as we value multinationalism against the backdrop of uncertainty in world affairs coupled with a rise of nationalism and an introverted mindset as part of nations’ response to the pandemic,” he said.
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