All national dailies wrote that Prime Minister Abe held meetings with the leaders of five opposition parties on Wednesday and asked for their cooperation in quickly enacting legislation to amend an existing law stipulating the government’s response to influenza and other previously unknown diseases. The revision is designed to apply the statute to the novel coronavirus for up to two years starting retroactively on Feb. 1 when the pathogen was officially classified as a designated infectious disease. If the legislation is enacted, prefectural governors would be authorized to curtail people’s civil liberties sharply to contain the virus pending the declaration of a state of emergency by the prime minister.
Abe reportedly told the press afterward that all political parties, irrespective of their ideologies, must cooperate to overcome this “national crisis.” Sankei speculated that the prime minister openly reached out to the opposition bloc perhaps in a bid to deflect mounting public criticism of the administration’s response to the rapid spread of the virus by directly involving it in the enactment of a law that may drastically curtail civil liberties.
While criticizing the administration’s handling of the virus outbreak, the opposition chiefs reportedly promised their support for swift enactment. Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan leader Edano told the press afterward that the government is “responsible for creating a situation that does not warrant the declaration of a state of emergency.” While predicting that the legislation will be enacted next week, Yomiuri said attention will be focused on whether the premier chooses to declare a state of emergency. An unnamed senior GOJ official reportedly said while a spate of cluster infections could trigger such a declaration, the government is committed to minimizing restrictions on civil liberties.
In a related article, Nikkei noted that Japan’s response to the new virus seems to be less stringent than those by other nations’ governments, conjecturing that the GOJ has been reluctant to adopt harsh measures out of consideration for China since Japan relies heavily on the nation in the economic and tourism sectors. The GOJ has also reportedly been cautious about taking drastic steps in view of the upcoming Tokyo Olympics and out of fear of triggering public criticism of restrictions on civil liberties.