The following is the gist of interpellations at the Lower House budget committee meeting on Feb. 17, 2021:
Hiroaki Tabata (Liberal Democratic Party): Is the government considering lowering the age group eligible for vaccinations?
Parliamentary Vice-Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare Takashi Koyari: It is possible that we will re-evaluate the safety [of vaccines] and consider [lowering the age group] if the necessary data become available in the future.
Tabata: How will the government secure medical workers in remote rural areas?
Director-General of the Health Service Bureau at the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare Tokuaki Shobayashi: We will allow nurses to be dispatched to medical institutions including vaccination venues starting April 1.
Ayano Kunimitsu (Liberal Democratic Party): It is important to develop [vaccines] domestically.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga: Establishing a system for the domestic production [of vaccines] is an extremely important crisis management measure. We want to thoroughly support industries engaging in the development of curative drugs and vaccines.
Hiromasa Nakano (Komeito): Countries around the world are competing fiercely to secure vaccine supplies.
Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare Norihisa Tamura: We will make efforts to develop and produce [vaccines] in Japan.
Akira Nagatsuma (Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan): What are your expectations for the vaccines?
Suga: They will become the decisive factor in containing the spread of infections. We will proceed with vaccinations while providing the public with information on side effects. We want to stop infections by any means.
Nagatsuma: [Japan] was slower than the U.S. and Europe in the vaccine rollout.
Suga: It is true that it took time for the rollout because we needed to conduct clinical trials on Japanese people. I take the criticism seriously.
Mitsunori Okamoto (Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan): What is the volume of the second shipment of vaccines developed by the U.S.’s Pfizer and when will the third shipment arrive?
Minister in charge of administrative and regulatory reform Taro Kono: We are engaged in various negotiations. I would like to refrain from commenting on the volume.
Wining and dining scandal involving senior MIC officials
Yuichi Goto (Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan): Did you dine with people involved in the satellite broadcasting business of a Tohokushinsha subsidiary around the time when the subsidiary was given approval to conduct business? [The prime minister] has also received donations [from Tohokushinsha].
Suga: I dined with a former president and others a few times. I don’t remember clearly (whether we dined around the time the approval was given), but I don’t think we dined together [around that time]. I received donations totaling five million yen during the period from 2012 to 2018.
Goto: At the plenary session of the Lower House on Feb. 16, [the internal affairs minister] asserted, “The administration of broadcasting was not distorted in the least.”
Minister for Internal Affairs and Communications Ryota Takeda: I said, “As of this moment.”
Goto: Did you talk about the broadcasting industry or discuss matters dealing with “BS” and “CS” while dining with the prime minister’s eldest son?
Director-General of Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications’ Information and Communications Bureau Yoshinori Akimoto: I don’t remember.
Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games
Nagatsuma: Members of a panel tasked with selecting the next president of the organizing committee and their meetings are not open to the public. Has transparency been ensured?
Suga: I strongly told them to decide [on the new president] in an open manner. The matter is not something that I should interfere in. The organizing committee will decide itself. I think a decision will be made based on rules.
China’s maritime security law
Seiji Maehara (Democratic Party for the People): There are concerns that China’s maritime security law, which permits the China Coast Guard to use weapons, could violate international law.
Suga: I think [the law] includes a provision that is problematic from the perspective of consistency with international law.
Low altitude flights of U.S. military aircraft
Seiken Akamine (Japanese Communist Party): Low-altitude flight training witnessed across Okinawa Prefecture is causing anxiety among the Okinawa people.
Suga: I will instruct the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to minimize the impact [of U.S. military aircraft] on local communities. (Abridged)