Japan’s PM pledged to contain ‘tremendous’ virus amid omicron push

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida delivers his first political speech during a plenary session of the House of Representatives on January 17, 2022 in Tokyo. (Mainichi/Kan Takeuchi)

TOKYO (Kyodo) – Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Monday he would devote himself to containing COVID-19 in Japan amid a surge in cases fueled by the Omicron variant, asking for the public’s cooperation to win the battle against the virus that turns out to be more “formidable” than expected.

In his first policy speech at the start of a regular 150-day diet session, Kishida sought to allay public concerns about the highly transmissible variant of Omicron by promising to roll out booster shots more quickly, vaccinate young people children and to make necessary treatment and health care services available. for those with severe symptoms, even when cases jump further.

Beyond COVID-19, Kishida set a goal of achieving carbon neutrality as an engine of growth for Japan and unveiled a plan to create a nationwide “zero emissions community”. Asia. In his push for a new form of capitalism, he stressed the importance of wealth distribution, especially through aggressive wage hikes by corporations, as wage growth remains tepid.

The roughly 40-minute political speech laid out what Kishida, who took office in October, will focus on during the regular Diet session, a critical period ahead of an upper house election this summer, when his skills regarding delivery will be tested. For the moment, it enjoys solid support but Omicron is launching a new challenge.

“I myself have heard Japanese people say ‘Never again. I can’t take it anymore.’ But we must bear in mind that the invisible enemy is much more formidable than expected,” Kishida told parliament.

“Once again, I ask for your cooperation. Let’s overcome this national crisis,” the 64-year-old leader said.

Japan has seen a recent downward trend in COVID-19 cases reverse as community transmissions of Omicron have been confirmed. Health experts have pointed to the tendency for many patients to show no or mild symptoms despite the highly transmissible nature of the variant.

The government has already decided to shorten the interval between the second and third vaccine injections from one month to seven for those aged 18 to 64 and to six for those over 64. The isolation period for close contacts has also been reduced to 10 days from 14.

Still, the strict border controls, including an entry ban for non-resident foreign nationals, that have allowed the country to keep the influx of Omicron “to a minimum” will be in place until the end of February as Japan is strengthening its national anti-virus measures. , said Kishida.

“We must avoid an emergency situation in which the number of patients with severe symptoms increases due to an unexpected increase in infections and hospital beds are scarce,” he said.

During the parliamentary session, the government will seek swift passage of a record 107.60 trillion yen ($940 billion) budget to support the struggling economy. Bills to be debated include those related to the launch of an agency dedicated to child and family policies and the protection of sensitive technologies, infrastructure and supply chains in the context of safeguarding the interests economic security – the main political elements of Kishida.

Tackling climate change is “the greatest challenge” in the pursuit of a new form of capitalism, Kishida told parliament lawmakers. Japan aims to bring carbon dioxide emissions to net zero by 2050, in line with pledges from the United States and other countries.

“We will at least double investment (in efforts to achieve a carbon neutral society) as soon as possible and create an engine to achieve decarbonization and growth for a new era,” he said.

To help decarbonize other Asian countries, Japan should use technology and expertise in the use of hydrogen and ammonia and create a “zero emission community” by jointly establishing technology standards and infrastructure. , added the Prime Minister.

On distribution, a pillar of the push for new capitalism, he urged companies to raise wages and “reverse the recent trend of slowing wage growth” in shunto negotiations between management and unions. The talks this spring come as consumers begin to feel the effects of rising energy and food prices.

High on his list for 2022 is increased diplomacy at the top, an area he has yet to fully engage in despite his past experience as foreign minister.

As an elected legislator from atomic-bombed Hiroshima, Kishida said he wanted to create a new framework for dialogue between current and former political leaders from various countries and experts to achieve a world without nuclear weapons with his first meeting. to be held in the western Japanese prefecture this year.

Kishida values ​​working with longtime ally, the United States and other like-minded nations, to address security challenges and protect universal values ​​such as the rule of law and human rights. human rights. In the speech, he reiterated his wish to hold summit talks with US President Joe Biden as soon as possible to deepen the alliance.

China continues to loom large as Japan, placed in a difficult position amid the rivalry between Washington and Beijing, must strike a delicate balance in its relationship with the important trading partner including military buildup and moves asserted at sea raise concerns.

“We will say the right thing to say to China and urge the nation to behave responsibly,” Kishida said. “As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the normalization of relations between Japan and China, we will strive to build a constructive and stable relationship.”

Kishida addressed the issue of threats posed by North Korea and called the recent and repeated test firings of ballistic missiles “completely unacceptable”. But he left the door open for summit talks with leader Kim Jong Un, as has been the case with his recent predecessors, to comprehensively resolve nuclear and missile issues and Pyongyang’s past kidnappings of Japanese nationals.

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