Pressure mounts on Japanese PM over pandemic response
TOKYO (JAPAN) – Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga faced renewed pressure on Monday over the way he handed the coronavirus pandemic, The new opinion poll showed that many believed the government was too much time to respond to the latest wave of infections.
Opposition lawmakers have also been demanding that he provides detailed answers to questions raised about the COVID-19 crisis and the Tokyo Olympics likely to start in less than six months.
Suga has been struggling to halt a steady decline in support for his four-month-old government in spite of introducing a slew of measures to contain a third wave of coronavirus infections.
Support for Suga’s cabinet dropped to 33% from 39% last month, with the number of people in disapproval increasing 10 points to 45%, according to a poll published by the Asahi newspaper on Monday.
The poll conducted by telephone on the weekend showed 80% of respondents thought the government delayed in declaring a state of emergency against the coronavirus outbreak which has swept the country since December.
Critics also say Suga took too long to suspend a domestic tourism campaign, which according to experts have contributed to the spread of the virus beyond the initial hotspots in the Tokyo region.
Yoshihito Niki, an infectious disease specialist and professor at Showa University Hospital, agreed the government should have brought the campaign to a halt earlier.
“It is clear that was problematic, not just because it may have contributed to rise in case numbers by people travelling around the country, but also by giving young people an impression that they could lower their guard,” he said.
The government says it was an appropriate decision to stick with the domestic tourism campaign, based on infection data at the time.
Tokyo recorded 986 new cases on Sunday, falling below 1,000 for the first time since January 12. Osaka prefecture also reported the lowest number of new cases since that date.
While the count nationwide was 3,990, below 4,000 for the first time since January 4, public broadcaster NHK said. Japan reported a total of 365,723 cases of the novel coronavirus and 5,120 deaths, NHK reported.
Suga said that despite the fall in cases in Tokyo, the government would not hurry to lift the state of emergency.
He told parliament, “Experts indicate that it is necessary to look at the situation a little more to determine that it is a decreasing trend,”
Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said the government would not stop the emergency even if cases in Tokyo saw a drop below 500 a day.
The Asahi poll came in the wake of opposition lawmakers levelling criticism about how concise Suga’s answers were to questions regarding the government’s response to the COVID-19 crisis and the Olympics during a parliamentary debate on Thursday.
According to the Mainichi and Asahi newspapers, an Upper House steering committee gave petition to Suga’s office to give more thorough responses during future debates,
Mainichi quoted opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan lawmaker Tetsuro Fukuyama as saying last week, “To get over it with an abstract, really short answer is the same as rejecting to explain it to the people.”
Opinion polls show the public is strongly opposed holding the Games amid the pandemic.
Nihon University political science professor Tomoaki Iwai said Suga was “not a great communicator”, however, his leadership was not currently in doubt.
“There are no strong candidates to replace him. Chances are the current government will drag on despite very weak public support, which would be quite tragic,” he said.