Japan’s prime minister Yoshihide Suga has said there is no immediate need to declare a national state of emergency amid rising coronavirus infections that have considerably strained the country’s medical staff.
Speaking in a pre-recorded TV interview to Tokyo Broadcasting System Television’s “News 23” programme on Monday evening, Mr Suga said that the head of the government’s expert panel on the coronavirus pandemic had told him “we’re not there yet” with regards to calling a state of emergency.
He also said that the government may ask restaurants and bars to shorten their business hours in order to curb the spread of infection.
The newly elected prime minister has been opposed to a full lockdown, a decision his predecessor Shinzo Abe made in April after the country’s Covid-19 curve started going upwards. However, the country managed to control the infections by May without strong restrictions on the movement of citizens and closure of businesses.
However, Japan started witnessing a spike from July onwards, especially in recent weeks, and recorded its highest ever daily increase of over 3000 cases on 17 December, with a record 2,154 people hospitalised as of Monday, according to national broadcaster NHK.
A group of national medical associations called their own state of a medical emergency on Monday, warning the system was under considerable strain from the pandemic.
Mr Suga has been talking about striking a balance between fighting the pandemic and restarting economic activity, instead of imposing new restrictions.
However, he has also been struggling with falling approval ratings, with polls showing the public disapproves of how he has handled the pandemic. A Kyodo News poll conducted earlier this month showed that the approval rating for his Cabinet has fallen to 50.3% from 63.0% in November. Mr Suga said that the government must successfully curb the spread of the coronavirus to win back public support.
“We need to show the results of our coronavirus countermeasures. I’ll spearhead the effort with a mindset to do everything that must be done,” Mr Suga said.
Mr Suga also talked about Japan’s plan for vaccination, saying the government is working hard toward making vaccines available for the entire population to “protect lives and livelihoods.”
“I will lead the efforts with the intention of doing everything in my power,” he promised.
He has said Japan will procure sufficient vaccine supplies by the first half of 2021.