In order to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus, each individual is urged once again to consider what he or she can do.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has expanded the number of prefectures where a state of emergency has been declared from seven, including Tokyo, to all 47 of the nation’s prefectures. The expansion is based on the revised law on special measures to deal with new strains of influenza, and the nationwide state of emergency is to be in effect through May 6.
The number of people infected with the virus has continued to increase in the seven prefectures after the initial declaration on April 7, and there have also been gradual increases in other parts of the country. In regional areas, there are only a limited number of hospitals and medical workers capable of dealing with infectious diseases, and there is a high risk of collapse in the provision of medical services.
There have been reported cases in which young people in urban areas returned to their hometowns carrying the virus, resulting in the spread of infections there. During the long Golden Week holiday period in May, the possibility of people moving across prefectural borders, such as for leisure trips, will increase.
The expansion of the target areas is apparently aimed at sounding a warning to society and preventing the spread of infections to regional communities.
Now that the declaration has been issued, governors across the nation will be able to take various measures if deemed necessary to prevent infection. These include requests for residents to refrain from going out, restrictions on the use of facilities such as schools and day care centers, and requests and instructions to cancel events.
It is important to minimize opportunities for person-to-person contact, which increases the risk of infection. Each governor is urged to take appropriate measures based on the infection situation in their area.
Cooperation between the central and prefectural governments is essential to produce positive impacts on reducing the rate of infection.
When the Tokyo metropolitan government tried to request the suspension of operations for businesses, there were difficulties in coordinating the details between the metropolitan government, which aimed to request the suspension of operations in a wide range of industries, and the central government, which was concerned about the stagnation of economic activities. This lack of coordination must be avoided from now on.
Declarations can be accompanied by restraints on citizens’ actions and restrictions on certain private rights. Some people may feel vaguely uneasy about the expansion of these restrictions.
The central and local governments should be careful not to take excessive measures. In addition, when implementing measures that have a significant impact on the lives of citizens, the governments should make efforts to carefully explain the necessity of such measures and gain understanding for them.
Not a few governments of prefectures and municipalities across the nation have resumed school. With the new declaration being issued, these local governments will need to reconsider whether to close schools again.
It is important for the central government to accurately explain its policies on school closures in order to prevent confusion among educators and parents. Each local government is urged to take adequate measures while examining the potential impact on children’s safety and education.
The government will drastically review a cash payout proposal attached to its emergency economic measures. An across-the-board payout of ¥100,000 to every citizen is under consideration. Coordination has been in the works without setting an income limit to receive the payout.
Initially, the cash handout was planned only for a limited number of recipients such as low-income households whose income had declined, setting the amount at ¥300,000 per such household. The plan, however, has faced mounting criticism because it would cover only 20% of total households in addition to its complicated income line of demarcation.
Even within the ruling parties, calls for reviewing the plan had been made public, from Komeito in particular.
An across-the-board payout would certainly make it easier for the people to understand as a bailout scheme, but concern remains that the money would simply be stored as savings.
What matters is to implement the payout in short order.
In 2009, after the Lehman shock, the government handed out a flat amount of ¥12,000 to every citizen in principle. It took about three months to actually deliver the payout because the of process that was required first for sending documents to householders, based on the resident registration system and other relevant information, and then for returning the application form.
In the current case, the government is considering a system in which applicants would apply for the payout to their municipal governments and the money would be transferred to their accounts. It is expected the system would streamline preparatory work for the municipal governments and expedite the procedures.
Many operators of businesses, such as eateries, have been forced to suspend their activities, mainly in the areas where the initial declaration of a state of emergency applied. Quite a few people have fallen into deep difficulty, with their income greatly reduced. It is hoped that a smooth process for the payout can be realized even while watching out for fraudulent claims.
With the change of the payout plan, the government will take the unusual step of restructuring a supplementary budget bill for fiscal 2020.
The government now aims to start an across-the-board payout of ¥100,000 in May. The ruling and opposition parties should work together to pass the budget bill promptly.
Under the supplementary budget bill, a system would also be created to provide up to ¥1 million to a sole proprietor and up to ¥2 million to a small or midsize company, if their income has decreased.
In order to minimize the economic impact accompanying the declaration of a state of emergency, a wide range of measures should be combined to weather crisis.
— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on April 17, 2020.