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Long Fight Ahead: Japan’s Abe Announces Planned Economic Aid for Sectors Affected by COVID-19



Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced on Saturday evening, March 28, the inclusion of an economic stimulus package in the new national budget, targeting sectors affected by the coronavirus outbreak, even as he warned the epidemic could worsen. 


The proposed economic stimulus, which will surpass the one approved in the aftermath of the Lehman shock in 2008, will be submitted as a priority for the Diet in the next 10 days. 


Concretely, Abe said, there will be cash benefits for citizens, heeding the calls from small to medium businesses, especially in the fields of travel, food and entertainment. 


“There are many small-to-medium businesses, freelancers, self-employed, or people who are struggling with the cost of everyday life. In order for these people to continue working and to support them in their livelihoods, I plan to make preparations for cash benefits,” the Prime Minister said in a press briefing. 



“I think that we should make drastic measures payments with a certain target, given the experience and effects of the Lehman shock,” he said, in response to a question about the amount and the size of target beneficiaries. 


Prime Minister Abe’s announcement came as Tokyo, Osaka, and Kumamoto residents stayed indoors for the weekend as a way to slow down the spread of the virus. 


As of Saturday, there had been 1,683 cases of COVID-19, with 49 deaths, in Japan. 


Tokyo, the capital, now has a total of 299 cases, with more than 63 new cases confirmed in one day, on March 28, the biggest spike recorded so far.




‘Japan is Just Holding Holding On’


Abe called attention to how the situation was worsening in other countries around the world, and urged citizens to be ready as the situation could also worsen quickly in Japan.


“Until now, we have managed to control the clusters of patients. However, there are a number of patients for which it is unclear how they are getting infected,” he said. 


The Prime Minister called upon the public not to grow complacent because of low numbers in Japan compared to other big economies. He said these numbers reflect only those who were showing symptoms and therefore got tested. 



“The patients seem few. However, this is nothing more than a reflection of the situation of two weeks ago. It takes two weeks for it to be reflected in the numbers, and by then it’s too late. That is the scariest part of this opponent; we need to fight against it,” Abe said.


“I know there are people who feel what some are calling ‘corona fatigue’ or ‘restraint fatigue,’ a feeling of stress…. Japan, compared to the U.S and Europe, is still only just keeping the situation under control. But, if we let up, the spread could rise drastically at any minute…. I think we need to get ready to fight this battle for a long period to come,” the Prime Minister said. 


Still, Abe said the situation doesn’t yet call for a declaration of a state of emergency. However, he said that appropriate legal preparations should be made now, in the event such a declaration becomes necessary.  




Re-opening of the Schools


Since the order to close all schools in early March, some institutions have already reopened, and many more are due to start a new semester in April.


The Ministry of Education earlier in the week issued a set of guidelines to deter the spread of the novel coronavirus in schools. The guidelines include practices such as opening windows to ensure proper airing of the spaces.


Abe, however, gave assurances that the government was reevaluating whether to reopen the schools. “We will meet with the panel of experts next week, and decide the policy regarding the opening of the schools,” he said. 


Prime Minister Abe also reminded the public that the Japanese government was preparing to push the development of experimental drugs and vaccines, in collaboration with other governments, to fight the virus. 



The government is also securing masks and medical provisions for hospitals, should the number of patients suddenly spike. 


Author: Arielle Busetto