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Young members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party will establish a panel to consider measures to address the issue of loneliness, which they claim is emerging as a serious public health challenge amid the spread of the novel coronavirus, according to informed sources.

The panel will be set into motion as early as this month, aiming to come up with proposals to submit to the government after conducting hearings with people experiencing loneliness, the sources said.

The issue of loneliness is not limited to young recluses and unattended deaths of older people, but it is viewed as a wide-ranging problem that affects people across generations and income brackets.

The coronavirus pandemic has raised concerns over an increase in the number of people suffering loneliness, due to a range of reasons including restraint on going out, loss of employment and school closures.

The number of suicides has increased year on year for five straight months since July last year, and some of the LDP members suspect that there is a causal link between the rise and the issue of loneliness.

“The issue of ‘unwanted loneliness’ has become evident due to the coronavirus crisis,” said Takako Suzuki, the main organizer of the LDP panel and a member of the House of Representatives, the lower chamber of the Diet. “The state should analyze underlying problems and provide necessary assistance.”

Suzuki stressed the need for the government to regard loneliness as a policy target and make cross-ministry efforts to tackle the issue.

Seeking policy guidance, the LDP panel plans to look at the experience of Britain, considered an advanced nation in measures against loneliness. Britain has made national commitments to dealing with the issue of loneliness, even appointing a minister for loneliness in 2018.

According to a survey by British lawmakers and others in 2017, more than 13% of Britain’s population was experiencing loneliness, with related economic losses estimated at the equivalent of ¥4.7 trillion annually.

Calls for government action on the issue of loneliness have also been made from the private sector.

In March last year, Koki Ozora, a 22-year-old student of Keio University, set up a nonprofit organization to operate a chat-based consultation service. The organization had received more than 300,000 inquiries from about 26,000 people by the end of November.

“Loneliness is the common topic of their requests for advice,” Ozora said. “Our consultation service is only supportive care, and a fundamental approach to addressing the issue is needed.”

On Dec. 3, Ozora, accompanied by lawmaker Suzuki, held a meeting with Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato and proposed that the government conduct a nationwide survey on the issue of loneliness, draw up a basic policy on countermeasures and appoint a minister to lead efforts to tackle the problem.

At a news conference on Dec. 4, Kato said the government sees loneliness as an important challenge related to people’s lives.

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