This year, Japan marked Constitution Day on May 3 facing unusually deep social strains due to the new coronavirus outbreak.
More than 500 precious lives in this nation have been lost already. Innumerable people are facing a fundamental threat to their livelihoods as voluntary self-isolation and business closures under a nationwide state of emergency take a heavy toll on their incomes.
The principal mission of a nation is to protect its people, and the policies to achieve this goal must be based firmly on the Constitution.
Is the Abe administration carrying out this mission properly?
RIGHT TO LIVE PRIORITY
Article 25 of the Constitution guarantees the people’s right to live a decent life by stating, “All people shall have the right to maintain the minimum standards of wholesome and cultured living.”
The second paragraph requires the state to “use its endeavors for the promotion and extension of social welfare and security, and of public health.”
The Abe administration’s policy efforts to control the spread of the virus are based on this requirement.
As the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 infection rise, the government’s desperate efforts to contain the outbreak have resulted in acute shortages of doctors, nurses, hospital beds dedicated to coronavirus patients and even masks and hazmat suits.
An internal affairs ministry assessment of capabilities to deal with an outbreak of an infectious disease in 2017 expressed “misgivings about whether a system is securely established to ensure that infected patients can receive high-quality and appropriate medical treatment.”
Those concerns are now justified. Given that the number of public health centers, which should serve as core facilities for public health protection, has been reduced significantly, it is hard to claim that the successive administrations have done enough to ensure the nation is well-prepared for a crisis such as the one we now all face.
Even so, the number of deaths from the pandemic in Japan has been far smaller than for most major Western nations. That is probably due to good access to quality healthcare under a universal health coverage program and the dedicated efforts and ingenuity of frontline health workers that have made up for the difficulties of the situation and the shortages of vital resources.
But there is reason to be worried about the outlook of the public health crisis. As restrictions on the activities of individuals and businesses continue, the ranks of people who are having a hard time trying to “maintain the minimum standards of wholesome and cultured living” will inevitably grow.
The first to suffer will be those who are economically and socially vulnerable, such as non-regular workers, part-timers, the owners of small and individual businesses and single-parent families.
Nearly a month has passed since a state of emergency was declared first for seven hard-hit prefectures, including the Tokyo metropolitan area. Even slight delays in the provision of policy support could be the difference between economic survival and downfall for many people cutting their living expenses to the bone.