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Bureaucratic opposition hinders policy implementation

  • April 18, 2020
  • , Sankei , p. 1
  • JMH Translation

By Mayumi Ogawa

 

During a press conference on April 17, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said, “The whole nation will unite and overcome the current situation” and stop the spread of the new coronavirus. Abe has held five briefings since February 29, as the number of cases continues to grow in urban areas in particular. So far, the government has been unable to provide a solid response to the pandemic, and measures it has introduced until now have ended up being inconsistent and confusing, such as the recent decision on the cash handout, which changed from giving 300,000 yen to income-deprived households to giving 100,000 yen to every citizen. Notwithstanding the premier’s intentions, criticism of the administration is growing daily.

 

However, the sluggishness of response from the prime minister’s office [Kantei] is a result of foot-dragging in ministries and agencies. The bureaucrats tend to follow precedence and often put up barriers to new measures.

 

While Abe has repeatedly issued instructions to improve the daily capacity of PCR testing in order to determine who and how many are infected with the virus, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare has been less than cooperative, pointing out that an increase of inpatients with mild cases would hinder treatment of severe cases and would lead to the collapse of the medical system. However, people infected with the new coronavirus are often asymptomatic. Lack of testing will increase stress and concern among the people.

 

According to a government official, the administration’s effort to promote online consultation with doctors and to secure approval of Avigan, the new influenza drug that may be effective in the treatment of the new coronavirus, were blocked by senior health ministry officials who were also licensed doctors, citing possible side effects as the reason.

 

When the cash handout emerged as an option, the Ministry of Finance argued, “Large firms and pensioners have not been affected as much, so the across-the-board distribution of cash would be unfair.” The Kantei, recognizing the cost of giving cash to everyone, leaned towards distributing 300,000 yen only to households whose income had declined.

 

However, households are spending more money than usual under a state of emergency because of the school closure and teleworking. Companies are certain to be more cautious about raising wages in the future. The 10% consumption tax will remain an extra burden as well. Weighing public sentiment against this background, Abe chose the policy of an across-the-board 100,000-yen distribution as he declared a nationwide state of emergency. Afterwards, on April 17, he confessed to the press, “I should have made the decision earlier.”

 

“We can do more. Beyond confronting the current reality, it’s possible for us to change our future,” Abe said, asking for the nation’s cooperation. If the number of cases remains high after the Golden Week in May, the nation’s efforts and the large-scale economic measures will have been in vain. The Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, now postponed to next July, might also be jeopardized. Abe should take to heart that his decisions will change the course of the nation and boldly face this national crisis.

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