Japan's main opposition party chief condemns government's slack virus response
TOKYO, Jan. 20 (Xinhua) -- Japan's main opposition party leader took aim at the administration of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Wednesday for its purported delayed action in responding to the novel coronavirus pandemic currently sweeping the nation.
The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ) leader Yukio Edano also slammed as being "extreme" the government's plans to penalize people who choose not to follow health officials' recommendations, stating there are more pressing issues.
During the first Diet debate, Edano said the country's medical system has already buckled under surging COVID-19 cases owing to the government's dithering in tackling the crisis.
"The government should admit a delay in making the decision and reflect on it," said Edano.
He was referring to a state of emergency for Tokyo and three of its neighboring prefectures being declared on Jan. 7, when the CDPJ had been urging such a measure be taken as far back as Dec. 18 last year, when the virus was showing signs of a serious resurgence.
Suga rebuked Edano's criticism stating that virus-related decisions were based on the opinions of experts.
The Japanese leader declared a state of emergency for Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures on Jan. 7, which was expanded almost a week later to cover 11 prefectures nationwide, including Osaka, Hyogo, Kyoto and Aichi prefectures.
The virus emergency is set to stay in place through Feb. 7.
Edano also denounced some of the government's plan to pass a revised legislation making it possible to punish people and businesses that refuse to comply with requests made under the virus emergency declaration.
Specifically, Edano took issue at a legal revision that would make it possible to penalize people testing positive for COVID-19 but refusing hospitalization.
Those refusing to be hospitalized could see fines levied to the tune of 1 million yen (9,600 U.S. dollars) or face a prison sentence of up to one year.
People who do not cooperate with the ministry's contact tracing efforts could also face hefty fines or prison terms, under the new plan.
Also under the proposed revision to the infectious disease law, those refusing to provide information to health authorities on infection routes could be fined 500,000 yen (4,800 U.S. dollars) or face up to six months in jail. The penalties would also be applicable to people providing false information to authorities.
The special measures law on the coronavirus may also be revised to enable the government to fine businesses that fail to comply with its requests to shorten opening hours or shutter businesses temporarily.
Such businesses in prefectures under a state of emergency could be fined up to 500,000 yen (4,800 U.S. dollars), while those in places where anti-virus measures are being implemented could be slapped with fines of up to 300,000 yen (2,800 U.S. dollars).
Edano described certain penalties as being "extreme," and said that there were more important priorities that need dealing with, such as providing more support to health care staff, before introducing such punitive measures.
The main opposition party has submitted a bill to parliament aimed at helping medical workers by providing them with up to 200,000 yen (1,900 U.S. dollars) each.
Instead of focusing solely on striking a balance between the nation's economic and social requirements, Edano said it was paramount that the government's attention remain with fighting and containing the spread of COVID-19.
The leader of the CDPJ also urged that financial support be provided to those whose livelihoods have been adversely affected by the resurgent virus. Enditem