Japan is beefing up measures against loneliness, taking a first major step toward comprehensively tackling a pervasive problem in the nation that has again been thrust into the spotlight due to the pandemic.

Such is the urgency of the issue that the administration of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga added a minister of loneliness to his Cabinet earlier this month, following the example of the U.K, which in 2018 became the first country to create a similar role.

Suga tapped minister Tetsushi Sakamoto, who is simultaneously in charge of combating the nation’s falling birth rate and revitalizing regional economies, for the new portfolio.