Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has acknowledged that he has a sore throat and had lost his voice, raising concerns that heavy pressure to deal with the coronavirus pandemic and criticism over the administration’s response has been taking a physical toll on him.
“I have a sore throat and lost my voice, but other than that I’m fine," Suga said in a hoarse voice during a Lower House budget committee meeting on Monday, attempting to downplay growing apprehension over his health.
During the daylong grilling, he at times answered questions from lawmakers in a feeble voice, a stark contrast from his days as chief Cabinet secretary, when he answered questions from the media briskly and with a commanding tone.
Asked about Suga's condition, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato, the government's top spokesman, told a news conference later in the day that the prime minister consults with a medical officer at the Prime Minister’s Office and takes medicine as needed.
"There is no interference with his official duties," Kato added.
Asked by a reporter whether Suga had taken a polymerase chain reaction test, Kato said only that the prime minister "undergoes necessary medical tests."
Suga appeared better on Tuesday, but at one point during the budget committee session, his voice became raspy and he cleared his throat.
The 72-year-old prime minister has been put under pressure by soaring COVID-19 cases and equally ballooning criticism from opposition parties and the public over his handling of the pandemic, which has killed more than 5,000 people nationwide.
Multiple polls have shown his Cabinet’s approval rating plummeting.
Known for his fondness to meet with individuals in a variety of fields, Suga has been forced to abandon his hobby of collecting information, oftentimes over a meal, as a coronavirus state of emergency remains effective in 11 prefectures.
He took flak in December when he dined with eight people at an extravagant steakhouse on the same day that he suspended his pet-project Go To Travel stimulus program to suppress surging coronavirus cases. The government was calling for avoiding dining with five or more people as that is said to raise the risk of virus transmission.
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