Tokyo, Nov. 20 (Jiji Press)–With the adoption of a revised basic COVID-19 policy and a stimulus package of an unprecedented scale on Friday, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is seeking to achieve “a new normal,” in which social and economic activities are continued even when the novel coronavirus is spreading, in a shift from the policies of his predecessors.
Kishida, also president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, is apparently aiming to produce tangible results in the fight against the coronavirus, ahead of next summer’s election for the House of Councillors, the upper chamber of the Diet, Japan’s parliament, after the party maintained a so-called absolute stable majority in the House of Representatives in the Oct. 31 general election for the all-important lower chamber.
But details are not clear for some measures in the amended basic COVID-19 policy as the prime minister aimed for quick results, some warned, adding that preparations for a possible sixth wave of infections may not be sufficient.
Alcohol OK’d Even under State of Emergency
“I will work hard to help rebuild our country’s economy, which has been badly damaged by the coronavirus pandemic, reopen social and economic activities, and put the economy back on a growth track as early as possible,” Kishida told a meeting of the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy on Friday.
The revised COVID-19 policy marks a major shift from the coronavirus policies adopted by the administrations of his two immediate predecessors–Shinzo Abe and Yoshihide Suga.
The previous policies called for reducing social and economic activities in principle if a COVID-19 state of emergency is declared.
But the Kishida administration’s policy states that the government will try to keep the economy up and running by utilizing third-party certification systems, as well as vaccination proof and COVID-19 negative test results for bars and restaurants.
Specifically, eating and drinking establishments whose infection prevention measures are found appropriate under the certification systems are allowed to operate until 9 p.m. and serve alcoholic beverages even when a state of emergency is in place.
Dining in a group of five or more people will also be allowed if customers show vaccination proof or negative test results when they enter bars or restaurants.
In addition, attendance caps for large events will be lifted, and restraints on travel to parents’ homes across prefectural borders will be scrapped.
The economic package, worth 78.9 trillion yen, includes the resumption of the “Go To Travel” campaign for tourism promotion and the “Go To Eat” program for supporting eateries.
Kishida is rushing to reopen social and economic activities, being concerned that Japan could be left behind other countries, including the United States, that are gradually regaining normalcy.
The prime minister “needs to accelerate his efforts to produce results” in the lead-up to the Upper House election in summer 2022, a source close to him said.
But some parts in the system to use proof of vaccination and negative test results are vague as Kishida focused on drawing up the revised basic COVID-19 policy speedily.
Although the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines drops as time goes on, the policy states that the period of validity of vaccination proof will not be set for the time being.
While in office as prime minister, Suga was slow to suspend the Go To Travel campaign, fearing that doing so would stall social and economic activities. As a result, the coronavirus spread again, and he came under fire.
Kishida apparently believes that the medical system will not be overwhelmed even in case COVID-19 infections increase to some extent if medical care capacity at hospitals and clinics is strengthened.
The revised policy stresses the need to make sure that coronavirus patients requiring hospitalization are admitted to hospitals, calling for establishing by the end of this month a system allowing 37,000 patients to be hospitalized at the same time, up by about 10,000 from the number this summer, when the country was hit by the fifth wave of infections.
The Abe and Suga administrations struggled to prepare a sufficient number of hospital beds for COVID-19 patients.
An expert said that securing enough hospital beds will be “very difficult” under the Kishida administration as well.
Friday’s meeting of a government panel of experts was flooded with calls for moving up the administration of third shots of COVID-19 vaccines to prepare for a sixth wave of infections.
An LDP lawmaker voiced concern over the risk of the potential sixth wave shaking the foundation of the Kishida administration.