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Experts’ “rebellion” forces Suga to make policy shift on COVID-19 state of emergency 

The Saturday editions of all national papers reported extensively on the GOJ’s decision on Friday to issue a coronavirus state of emergency for Hokkaido, Okayama, and Hiroshima from Sunday through May 31, noting that the GOJ’s initial plan of placing five more prefectures under a quasi-state of emergency was rejected by the public health experts on the coronavirus taskforce subcommittee. The experts reportedly felt the proposal was “too lenient” in view of the rapid spread of the UK strain across Japan, insisting that the infection situation in several prefectures warranted a full-scale state of emergency. Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister Nishimura, Health Minister Tamura, and Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato reportedly consulted with Prime Minister Suga immediately and decided to accept their advice. “If that’s what the experts recommend, let’s do it,” the premier reportedly said to the Cabinet ministers. 


The papers underscored that it is extremely unusual for key elements of a government’s final policy proposal to be altered at the last minute in response to pressure from experts given that such taskforces have customarily played the role of “rubber-stamping” GOJ decisions. Many coronavirus subcommittee members had reportedly been frustrated that the Suga administration consistently disregarded their calls for stricter prevention measures because of the prime minister’s focus on rescuing the ailing economy. 


Asahi said the eleventh-hour policy turnaround revealed a major perception gap between elected officials and public health professionals about the seriousness of the fourth wave of infection, adding that it raised doubts about the Suga administration’s crisis control capabilities. Yomiuri projected that Suga’s grip on power may weaken as a result, with a GOJ source saying: “Nobody will respect his judgment anymore.” Mainichi speculated that the premier chose to back down amid plunging public support, while Sankei said the public’s distrust of the administration is bound to deepen because the sudden policy shift reflected the GOJ’s failure to adopt effective measures to stem the pandemic. 


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