Under the administration of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, the Prime Minister’s Office [Kantei] will be the control tower for the government’s COVID-19 response. A cross-ministerial working group, which is directly answerable to the prime minister, will lead efforts to boost testing and medical capacities as well as balance virus countermeasures and economic recovery. During the coronavirus outbreak, vertical division of authority among agencies has hampered and delayed the virus response, giving momentum to the establishment of the cross-agency working group.
The administration is also eying the autumn-winter season, as the possibility of simultaneous outbreaks of the coronavirus and seasonal flu looms.
Expanding PCR-testing capacity and enhancing medical preparedness involve not only the MHLW, but also the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), whose jurisdiction includes university hospitals, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which oversees municipal governments that operate local health centers.
Originally, the Abe administration had each ministry formulate coronavirus countermeasures separately, which resulted in dysfunction in areas involving multiple agencies. In order to avoid red tape associated with the division of authority along ministry lines, a working group was launched around August to formulate virus responses that require coordination across ministries. Suga will take advantage of this cross-ministerial group to strengthen the Kantei’s control over coronavirus countermeasures.
The working group will be led by Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Kazuhiro Sugita. Directors-general and directors will participate from the Office of Novel Coronavirus Disease Control; the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW); the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry; and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, among others.
Sugita and Special Advisor to the Prime Minister Hiroto Izumi, who will be responsible for leading coordination between the agencies, worked under Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga in the previous Abe administration.
Also, three officials from the Abe administration were appointed by Suga to core positions to address the virus issue, ensuring the continuity of the coronavirus response: Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato, former head of MHLW; Minister of State for Economic and Fiscal Policy and Minister in charge of Economic Revitalization Yasutoshi Nishimura; and new MHLW head Norihisa Tamura, who occupied the same position in the past. (Abridged)