The following is the gist of interpellations at the Committees on Rules and Administration of the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors on May 21, 2020:
Report to the Diet toward the partial lifting of the emergency declaration
Economic Revitalization Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura: Today, the government held a meeting of the Advisory Committee on the Basic Action Policy. After comprehensively taking into account the changes in coronavirus situation, the medical service system, and the monitoring system, approval was granted to the plan to reduce the prefectures under a state of emergency to Hokkaido, Saitama, Chiba, Tokyo, and Kanagawa. We will continue to make utmost efforts by closely cooperating with prefectural governments in order to contain the outbreak by May 31.
Resumption of social and economic activities
Hideki Niwa (Liberal Democratic Party): What do you expect from residents of the prefectures in the Kansai region where the emergency declaration is set to be lifted?
Nishimura: We want the residents to gradually expand their economic activities while avoiding the “three Cs [closed spaces, crowded places, and close-contact settings]” by using thorough anti-infection measures and keeping physical distance from other people. We also want them to voluntarily refrain from traveling across prefecture lines through the end of this month, even in the case of prefectures where the state of emergency has been lifted.
Takashi Endo (Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party): It is important for the government to draw up and announce a long-term exit strategy, given the possibility of the arrival of a second and third wave of infections and a long battle against the new coronavirus.
Nishimura: After bringing the current outbreak under control, we will focus on the PCR testing system and measures to prevent clusters (group infections) with an eye to keeping a small-scale epidemic from turning into an outbreak. We hope to announce our basic plan for the resumption of economic activities when we lift the declaration (for all prefectures).
Yuka Miyazawa (Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan): Isn’t it too early for the government to lift the emergency declaration [for the three prefectures in the Kansai region]?
Nishimura: We have made a decision based on experts’ analysis of information on the infection situation, the medical service system, and the PCR testing system. The number of seriously ill patients has declined, and that has eased the burden on medical institutions.
Second supplementary budget for the second year of the Reiwa Era
Kazunori Yamanoi (Opposition joint parliamentary group): The government should make the second supplementary budget for the second year of the Reiwa Era an extensive one by accepting requests from the opposition parties.
Nishimura: We are currently examining a rent relief plan and also considering introducing a system to allow employees to apply for subsidies for employment adjustment. We would like to fully protect the continuation of businesses, employment, and livelihood by including shortfalls (in the first supplementary budget) in the second supplementary budget.
Tetsuya Shiokawa (Japanese Communist Party): Medical institutions are suffering a significant lose of revenues because they are required to keep beds available for coronavirus patients for a long period of time. The government should take a financial measure to assist them.
Nishimura: Of the block subsidy worth 149 billion yen, we will provide 97,000 yen for ICU (intensive care unit) beds per day, 41,000 yen for beds for patients on artificial ventilators, and up to 16,000 yen for other types of beds. We will significantly increase the block subsidy in the second supplementary budget.
Kei Sato (Liberal Democratic Party): The government should start developing a vision for a new economic society to return the gross domestic product (GDP) to its original level even when there are certain restrictions on activities.
Nishimura: Due to the global pandemic, the global economy is in the worst condition it has seen since the Great Depression. It is not too much to say that (the Japanese economy) is facing its greatest crisis since the end of World War II. But this is also an opportunity to bring changes to digitalization and other areas in which Japanese society lags behind other nations. People’s awareness is also changing. While teleworking, some people may have realized how enjoyable it is to raise children. We would like to showcase Japan’s new economy and society in the so-called “big-boned policy” to be drafted this summer. (Abridged)