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Gist of interpellations at Upper House budget committee meeting, March 3, 2020

The following is the gist of interpellations at the Upper House budget committee meeting on March 3, 2020:


Nationwide school closures


Satoshi Ninoyu (Liberal Democratic Party): There are various opinions about the request to close elementary, junior high, senior high, and special support schools nationwide.


Prime Minister Shinzo Abe: Some experts point out that during the Spanish flu pandemic in the U.S., there was a huge difference between the number of fatalities in states that canceled major events and closed schools and those that didn’t. I’m aware that there has been various criticism, but I made the decision as the chief political leader of the country .


Akira Koike (Japanese Communist Party): Was the nationwide school closure request made based on political considerations instead of scientific evidence?


Abe: Experts say the next one or two weeks will be the crucial period. I made a political decision amid confirmed cases of infection from unknown routes and among children.


Koike: Is there a possibility that schools will stay closed if the level of infection is on par with what we’re seeing now when spring break is about to end?


Abe: We’ll have to decide by looking at the situation at that time. We’ll ask experts about whether the spread of infection will continue before making a decision.


Emergency measures


Makoto Hamaguchi (CDPJ + DPFP + Reviewing Group on Social Security Policy + Independents’ Forum): What are the details of the emergency measures?


Abe: We’ll tap into the fiscal 2019 reserve fund of more than 270 billion yen to craft an emergency package by March 10. We’ll establish a fund to subsidize parents who are having to take time off work to care for their children due to temporary school closures, the enhancement of medical systems, and financing support for small and medium-sized enterprises as well as small business proprietors.


Border control


Hamaguchi: Which countries are banning or restricting the entry of Japanese nationals?


Minister of Foreign Affairs Toshimitsu Motegi: A total of 18 countries and regions, including Israel and Iraq, have so far restricted entry from the countries and regions where infection has been confirmed, including Japan.


Hamaguchi: How is the U.S. responding?


Foreign Minister: It has not made moves to restrict entry from Japan.


Hiroshi Yamada (Liberal Democratic Party): Why doesn’t the government impose a blanket restriction on entry from China?


Abe: We’ll decide flexibly on which regions will be subject to entry restrictions by analyzing the number of infected people and trends in travel restrictions.


Shigefumi Matsuzawa (Nippon Ishin [Japan Innovation Party]): Did the government’s consideration for China because of its leader Xi Jinping’s planned visit to Japan cause a delay in the initial response?


Abe: We began to deny entry from Hubei Province on Feb. 1 and added Zhejiang Province on Feb. 13.  Border control is functioning effectively. In carrying out border control, we have given absolutely no consideration to Xi’s visit to Japan.


Virus testing


Makoto Nishida (Komeito): There are apparently cases in which people still can’t undergo PCR testing.


State Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare Hisashi Inatsu: PCR tests will be covered by national health insurance by the end of this week. We’ll utilize the efforts of public health institutes to improve the testing system and other aspects to make the tests available to everyone who needs to undergo them according to their doctors.


Nishida: When will the government introduce simple test kits?


State Minister of Health: We’ll try to start using them in mid-March.


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