BY SATOSHI SUGIYAMA STAFF WRITER
While Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike has urged residents in the capital to work from home, and the nation appears to be inching toward declaring a state of emergency over rapid spread of COVID-19, the government seems set to maintain business as usual — at least for now.
There’s one problem; continued use of the government buildings where critical decisions are made is at odds with its message to avoid the “three Cs” — closed spaces with poor ventilation, crowded places with many people nearby and close-contact settings in which close-range conversations take place — where clusters of COVID-19 cases tend to be found.
In the government’s bid to curtail halt the spread of the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration has started this week to incorporate social distancing in its meetings, following criticism on social media that Cabinet members at the government’s coronavirus task force meetings sit close together.
On Tuesday, Abe decided Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso would not participate in the task force meeting. The decision reflects concern regarding the risk of multiple Cabinet members becoming infected. In general, if Abe became unable to perform his duties due to illness or an accident, Aso would take the reins.
A biweekly Cabinet meeting is an exception, because based on the current constitutional interpretation all members must be present in principle.
Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Akihiro Nishimura said Tuesday that, for future task force meetings, ministers and vice ministers would alternate attendance and that all participants would need to wear masks.
The Prime Minister’s Office press office has asked media organizations to send only one reporter each to cover the task force meeting, and reporters are to wear a mask while present.
“The government has decided to take those measures from a crisis management viewpoint, to prevent the infection from spreading,” Nishimura said.
Similar concerns about the “Three Cs” have also been directed at the Diet.
Officials from the Lower House Committee on Rules and Administration explained that the Diet building itself is well ventilated via air conditioning, negating suggestions the Diet may fall under the category of risky spaces.
Lawmakers say that even if a state of emergency is declared, a Diet session is unlikely to be suspended. They will soon be deliberating on the fiscal 2020 supplementary budget that will fund Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s massive economic rescue package, which is likely to be submitted to the Diet next week.
If a state of emergency is declared under the COVID-19 emergency law, prefectural governors would be able to ask for public facilities to be closed. The Diet, however, is not expected to be shut down.
On Monday, Toshihiro Nikai, Liberal Democratic Party secretary-general, dismissed the idea of shuttering the Diet immediately if lawmakers were confirmed to be infected with the novel coronavirus.
“The Diet is not something that can be taken lightly,” Nikai said at a news conference. “Yes, the coronavirus (outbreak) is extraordinary and an important matter, but a decision on whether or not to suspend the Diet can’t be made easily,” adding that he would take appropriate action depending on the situation.