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Japan Lower House passes coronavirus bill

Tokyo, Feb. 1 (Jiji Press)–Japan’s House of Representatives on Monday passed a government-proposed bill to revise laws related to the fight against the novel coronavirus.


The lower chamber of the Diet, the country’s parliament, approved revisions including the introduction of administrative fines for those refusing to be hospitalized despite coronavirus infections, as well as the creation of a new pre-emergency stage at which tougher prevention measures than normal can be taken.


The bill to revise a number of laws, including the infectious disease prevention law and the special measures law to combat coronavirus and other epidemics, is expected to be enacted Wednesday after deliberations at the House of Councillors, the upper chamber.


At Monday’s plenary meeting of the Lower House, the legislation was approved by a majority comprising the ruling bloc and some opposition forces including the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan.


The ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the CDP agreed to drop from the revisions the introduction of criminal penalties for refusal of hospitalization and other forms of cooperation with coronavirus measures.


The Lower House Cabinet Committee passed the amendment to the revision bills ahead of the passage at the plenary session.


The Lower House also passed a supplementary resolution requiring the government “to report to the Diet swiftly” when declaring the new stage, which will precede a state of emergency.


The resolution also called on the government “to consider the extent of the impact on business and gain sufficient understanding for requests” such as for shortened operating hours.


At a joint session of the Cabinet and health committees, health minister Norihisa Tamura said that a need to take care of children or parents would be considered an acceptable reason for refusing hospitalization and therefore would not result in penalties.


Asked in what cases the new pre-emergency stage will be declared, economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said the government envisages declaring the stage in situations equivalent to Stage 3, the second-worst level on the country’s four-tier coronavirus alert scale.


Nishimura, in charge of the government’s coronavirus countermeasures, added that situations equivalent to Stage 2 may also be included in the new stage “if (infections) are spreading rapidly in an area and may spread across the prefecture.”


The new stage may be declared when there are fears that a state of emergency will need to be declared again if enough measures are not taken, he observed.


Nishimura also said that businesses may not be fined for violating orders to shorten operating hours if there are no other food stores nearby.

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