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Kishida’s omicron flip-flops raising concerns in Japan

Tokyo, Dec. 29 (Jiji Press)–Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s flip-flops over measures to fight the omicron coronavirus variant have raised concerns about how he steers his government.

 

“There are problems with governance at the prime minister’s office,” one official said.

 

On Monday, the education ministry withdrew its policy of not allowing close contacts with omicron carriers to take regular entrance examinations for universities, high schools and junior high schools.

 

This followed the recent cancellation of a transport ministry request for a blanket suspension of bookings for international passenger flights arriving in Japan.

 

“We should have made prior adjustments,” education minister Shinsuke Suematsu told a press conference when he announced the exam policy change.

 

Suematsu said that the ministry did not consult the prime minister’s office before notifying schools of the policy in question Friday.

 

Only three days later, the ministry switched to allowing applicants with close contact with omicron carriers to take the exam in a separate room if they meet such conditions as an absence of symptoms.

 

According to Suematsu, the ministry’s controversial policy was based on a request announced Dec. 21 by Kishida that close contacts with omicron carriers isolate at designated accommodation facilities for 14 days.

 

The ministry gained Suematsu’s approval for the policy Thursday. It told the Cabinet Secretariat’s coronavirus response office of the policy before the notification but not the prime minister’s office.

 

The policy attracted criticism from various quarters. Many online posts said that the policy was too tough on test-takers.

 

Alarmed by the turn of events, Kishida instructed the ministry via a secretary Sunday to review the policy in a day or two.

 

Suematsu’s announcement came after these developments.

 

It was not the first time for Kishida’s administration to withdraw a measure to deal with the omicron variant in response to a backlash from the public.

 

On Nov. 29, the transport ministry asked domestic and foreign airlines to stop accepting reservations for all passenger flights arriving in Japan.

 

The government dropped the request three days later at the instruction of Kishida after a barrage of criticisms that the measure would bar Japanese nationals abroad from entering their own country.

 

The prime minister’s office says that it did not receive a report from the transport ministry about the blanket reservation halt in advance.

 

In both cases, government departments made their own decisions based on Kishida’s principle that “in the event of a crisis, doing too much too quickly is better than doing too little too late.”

 

On the education ministry’s exam policy, Kishida told people close to him, “I wonder whether I really need to cover such details.”

 

While some government officials see problems with the administration’s governance, some LDP members view the flip-flops as proof of Kishida’s self-touted ability to listen to the voice of people.

 

But Chinami Nishimura, secretary-general of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, was critical.

 

“In a word, there is a lack of imagination about how many people may be affected in what ways by a single policy,” she told a news conference Tuesday. “It’s the people who get confused. The prime minister should stand by the people.”

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