The following is the gist of interpellations at the Lower House budget committee meeting on Dec. 13, 2021:
Takeuchi Yuzuru (Komeito): The economic measures to tackle COVID are among the largest ever. What are the aims of the measures and do you think the measures are of an appropriate size?
Prime Minister Kishida Fumio: The measures include plans to thoroughly prepare for the further spread of the disease and to fully support people affected by the pandemic. They are sufficient in terms of both content and size for us to give the people hope and peace of mind. We aim to swiftly implement the measures.
Restoration of fiscal health
Ishikawa Akimasa (Liberal Democratic Party): Countries around the world are changing course to swiftly restore their economy by implementing large-scale fiscal policies. The government should suspend its goal of achieving a surplus in the primary balance (PB) of the central and local governments by fiscal 2025 and swiftly achieve a V-shaped recovery in the Japanese economy.
Kishida: We have to increase necessary public spending without hesitation because we are in the middle of the coronavirus crisis. We will consider achieving fiscal soundness after we overcome the crisis. We have to implement policies in the proper order. The “big-boned policy” outline stipulates that the government will adhere to the goal of achieving a primary budget surplus by fiscal 2025. But we will verify the impact of COVID-19 on the economy and public finances within this fiscal year and, based on that, we will conduct necessary verifications.
Oral COVID-19 drugs
Isa Shin-ichi (Komeito): An oral drug will be the trump card in our COVID-19 countermeasures alongside the vaccines. It is important that the drug is quickly prescribed by local medical facilities. I want the government to create a system to allow prescribed oral COVID-19 drugs to be sent [to patients’ homes] by postal mail.
Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare Goto Shigeyuki: We want to create a nationwide system to allow the use [of oral drugs] at various settings, such as inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment, and treatment by a home-visiting doctor. We are preparing to allow local medical institutions to prescribe oral drugs for patients and local pharmacies to deliver prescribed drugs to patients’ homes based on the prescriptions given by medical institutions that treat outpatients.
Third shot of COVID-19 vaccines
Nagatsuma Akira (Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan): The prime minister said he would move up the schedule for administering the third shot of COVID-19 vaccines as much as possible, rather than waiting for eight months (after the second shot). But isn’t it possible for the prime minister to set an interval of six months as one criterion?
Health Minister Goto: We’ll use the Moderna vaccine, which is expected to be approved for boosters, in order of priority to shorten the current eight-month interval after identifying the effectiveness of the existing vaccine against the Omicron variant.
Nagatsuma: Can the prime minister demonstrate leadership and announce an expected timeframe?
Kishida: Given the fact that the third shot is approved to be administered more than six months after the second dose, administering the third shot less than six months after the second is problematic. We will carefully consider how much we can shorten the interval by ensuring adequate responses to the third shot by municipalities.
Border control measures
Eda Kenji (Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan): We can’t adequately control (the movements of Japanese nationals who return from overseas) after they go home. The government should change its policy to isolate them at accommodation facilities uniformly for 10 or 14 days regardless of the country they departed from.
Kishida: We are keeping them at isolation facilities either for three or six or ten days from the perspective of focusing our limited medical resources by thoroughly considering the level of risk in the countries where the Japanese nationals traveled from. We are operating about 13,000 rooms at Isolation facilities, and we will continue to secure the rooms.
Makihara Hideki (Liberal Democratic Party): The domestic production of vaccines is indispensable. How will the government achieve this?
Minister in charge of Economic Security Kobayashi Takayuki: The development of domestic vaccines is very significant in terms of economic security. We will concentrate our efforts to swiftly develop domestic vaccines through intensively supporting industry-academic-government research projects for putting the vaccine into practical use and creating an R&D center.
Protection of Japanese nationals overseas
Takaichi Sanae (Liberal Democratic Party): Is the existing Self-Defense Forces Law enough to rescue Japanese nationals overseas?
Kishida: Section 4 of Article 84 of the law (which covers transport of Japanese nationals overseas) is related to how the SDF will ensure local safety, and I have instructed relevant officials to consider revising the section. It is important to make preparations during peacetime.
Takaichi: Section 3 of Article 84 of the law stipulates the protection of Japanese nationals overseas and allows [the SDF] to use weapons. Does the prime minister intend to revise the law to better protect Japanese nationals by reviewing the section?
Kishida: Section 3 of Article 84 requires careful consideration of conditions to guarantee policing activities that are not associated with the use of force.
Beijing Winter Olympics
Takaichi: What is your view on the so-called “diplomatic boycott,” namely, not sending a government officials to the Beijing Olympic Games?
Kishida: I will make a decision at an appropriate time in light of our national interests after comprehensively giving consideration to the purpose and spirit of the Olympic Games and diplomatic perspectives. I want to clearly indicate my decision at an appropriate timing.
Development of Okinawa
Shimajiri Aiko (Liberal Democratic Party): How do you feel about Okinawa?
Kishida: We want to let people know the attractiveness and potential of Okinawa as we mark next year the 50th anniversary of its reversion to Japan from U.S. control. We will promote the development of Okinawa so that we can make its economy stronger. We will also enthusiastically work on a new plan to develop Okinawa. (Abridged)