The Japanese government has adopted a second round of emergency measures against the new coronavirus. The package centers around support schemes for small- and medium-sized businesses and households with young children, among others, that have been hit hard by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s requests to close all schools and refrain from holding large-scale events.
It has already been two weeks since Abe abruptly issued those requests. The latest package should have been hammered out at the same time he made those calls.
The focal point of the fresh package was whether the government could reach out to smaller businesses with fragile operating foundations as well as people with unstable employment and income situations.
Smaller businesses in the affected industries are struggling amid difficult situations including a sharp fall in the number of tourists and the request to not hold major events. The creation of a special lending system with effectively no interest and no need for collateral is necessary for them to keep financing their businesses for the time being.
However, there will be no prospects for their business recovery unless the spread of coronavirus infections can be stemmed in Japan. Some companies, therefore, may be reluctant to take out loans even if they are interest-free. Operators of live venues and other facilities where the infection risk is said to be high face difficulties continuing their businesses. If the repercussions from the coronavirus crisis drag on, the government should also consider measures to compensate their losses.
Non-regular and freelance workers are especially vulnerable to adverse effects from the government’s requests, with one of them saying, “Our contract hours were shortened,” and another asking, “Can I claim expenses for my business appointments that have been canceled?”
Non-regular workers also face fears of termination of their contracts. While the latest package includes lending of small funds for living expenses, among other measures, they are far from sufficient. The government should take steps to ensure freelance workers do not suffer from major disadvantages.
Support measures were introduced for parents and guardians who have to take time off from work to look after their children during the temporary closures of schools to prevent the spread of coronavirus infections. Yet single-parent households, whose breadwinners are often non-regular workers, are worried that their workloads and employment opportunities may decrease. In addition, many parents and guardians face rising bills in March to prepare for their children entering schools or advancing to higher education.
While school lunches have temporarily been halted due to the closures of educational institutions, an increasing number of privately run “children’s cafeterias,” where meals are served for free to children in poverty, are also refraining from operation. Parents apparently have little time to spare to even help their children study. Local governments are urged to provide meticulous support to those households.
Additional fiscal spending would be necessary to tackle the coronavirus scare in the future. The government is urged not to lag behind in taking necessary countermeasures.
Prime Minister Abe has vowed to take every step possible in dealing with the virus outbreak at his own responsibility. That said, the money his government is footing stems from taxpayers’ money. It will be necessary to review all government measures and then put low-priority budgets on the back-burner.