The following is the gist of interpellations at the Budget Committees of the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors on May 11, 2020:
Measures against new coronavirus
Shigeyuki Goto (Liberal Democratic Party, Lower House): The number of new coronavirus cases has taken a downward turn.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe: We have days when the daily number is less than 100. We’re steadily walking the path toward an end to the outbreak.
Economic Revitalization Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura: If we can confirm that the number of new cases is relatively low in the 34 prefectures other than the 13 prefectures where special alert for the novel coronavirus is requested, we can consider lifting the state of emergency for many prefectures. We can also consider the same for the special alert prefectures if we see a sharp drop in the number of new cases there. Even after the emergency declaration is lifted, we’ll ask the public to voluntarily refrain from taking non-essential trips across prefectural borders and holding large-scale, nationwide events. If the number of cases rises and signs of an overshoot emerge [in a prefecture where the state of emergency has been lifted], we’d have to consider placing it under the declaration again.
Yuichiro Tamaki (Democratic Party for the People, Lower House): The government should decide whether or not to lift the emergency based on scientific evidence.
Abe: We’re planning to hear the opinions of experts on May 14 and announce if any partial lifting will be possible.
Tetsuro Fukuyama (Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, Upper House): Is the actual number of domestic cases, including those with mild or no symptoms, 10 times the number of cases reported and as high as about 100,000?
Vice chair of the government’s expert panel on coronavirus measures Shigeru Omi: It’s certain that the actual number of cases is higher than reported. But nobody knows whether that could be 10 times or 20 times more than reported.
Abe: It’s difficult to figure out the total number of people infected by conducting PCR tests alone. I think the (actual) number of cases is higher than the number of cases confirmed by testing. Other countries are not conducting PCR tests on asymptomatic individuals.
Toshiko Takeya (Komeito, Upper House): The government should be careful to prevent the spread of infection at evacuation shelters in the event of a disaster.
Minister of State for Disaster Management Ryota Takeda: We’ve asked municipalities to consider setting up as many evacuation centers as possible and utilizing hotels and inns.
Toru Azuma (Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party), Upper House): What are the criteria for lifting the emergency declaration and placing prefectures under a state of emergency again?
Abe: We’ll make a comprehensive judgement in light of the number of new cases, the infection situation in neighboring prefectures, the capability of the medical system to deal with severely or critically ill patients, and the capability to swiftly conduct PCR tests. When we lift the declaration, we’ll explain the reasons why we would place a prefecture under a state of emergency again.
Goto: The government should raise the limit for subsidies for employment adjustment given to companies.
Abe: We’d like to swiftly formulate a plan.
Goto: Some students have lost their part-time jobs.
Abe: We’ll promptly take additional measures.
Yukio Edano (Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, Lower House): I can’t help but feel that the government lacks a sense of speed.
Abe: I sincerely accept the criticism that we should respond faster.
Michihiro Ishibashi (Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, Upper House): Will the government raise the limit for subsidies for employment adjustment?
Abe: 15,000 yen [per day] as suggested by Liberal Democratic Party Policy Research Chief Fumio Kishida is equivalent to that of the UK and the highest level in the world. The ruling bloc is building up a consensus through discussions and will be able to obtain the agreement of the opposition bloc. I’d like to promise that we’ll deliver the money with a sense of speed. We’d like to also consider using funds from the general account.
Ishibashi: The government must not discriminate on the basis of occupation in providing subsidies for sustaining businesses.
Abe: We’ll carefully look into the issue to deliver subsidies to people who need them, including responding to freelancers.
Second draft supplementary budget
Tamaki: When will the government compile a second draft supplementary budget for fiscal 2020?
Abe: If we judge that further measures are needed, we would like to respond during this Diet session.
Akiko Kurabayashi (Japanese Communist Party, Upper House): The government should try to increase budget appropriations for procuring protective equipment to prevent infection.
Abe: If further measures are needed, we’d like to swiftly take necessary measures, including the utilization of reserve funds. (Abridged)