Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s sudden announcement that he intends to resign as the country continues to battle a resurgence in COVID-19 infections has been met with surprise and criticism by many people in Japan, with medical workers lamenting his slow and inadequate response to fight the virus.
“I thought he would stay on (as prime minister) a little longer,” a 35-year-old female nurse in Sapporo who was among those caught off guard by Suga’s abrupt announcement said Friday.
Suga’s intention to step down came amid strong public criticism over his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the delta variant rapidly spreading nationwide and 21 of Japan’s 47 prefectures currently under a virus state of emergency.
He was also criticized for going ahead with the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics despite public opposition amid mounting concerns over the spread of the virus.
“Japan lagged behind in securing and distributing vaccines, and the Suga administration did not provide any information (about it),” said Yasuhiko Hirata, chairman of the medical association in the city of Fukuoka.
Others lamented the slow rollout for younger people.
“If (Suga’s government) is going to pursue vaccination policies, I wish he could have better handled the vaccinations rather than (going ahead with) holding the Olympics,” said Haruka Honda, 34, who was at a vaccination site for younger people in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward.
The Suga administration’s pandemic response drew further flak after the government introduced a policy last month allowing only patients with severe symptoms to be hospitalized, in a bid to prevent a hospital bed shortage.
A nurse at a Tokyo hospital criticized the policy as being out of touch with reality, saying it shows how the government was “totally unaware of the situation on the ground.”
“There is not a single COVID policy that can be praised, and whatever comes out of the government comes out hollow,” the 47-year-old nurse said.
The government’s handling of the virus response was also unpopular among people running restaurants, bars and cafes that have been left reeling from the impact of the pandemic.
The government had banned restaurants, bars and others from serving alcohol and had them close early under a virus state of emergency, but Yoshihito Konishi, who operates a Japanese sukiyaki hot pot dish restaurant in the city of Osaka, said more and more stores are flauting the requests.
Shinya Murakami, manager at a restaurant in Osaka Prefecture, also criticized the government for being “a step behind” in dealing with the sense of crisis facing restaurants.
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