TOKYO: Japan hopes to start distributing coronavirus relief payments next month, it said on Friday, after extending a state of emergency nationwide in the face of criticism that its response to the crisis had been slow and inefficient.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has seen his support hit over his handling of the pandemic, is set to hold a news conference at 6 p.m. (0900 GMT).
With more than 9,000 infections and nearly 200 deaths nationwide, Abe said on Thursday the government was considering cash payouts of 100,000 yen ($928) for all, in an effort to cushion the economic impact.
“We think the most important thing is to proceed with this speedily,” Finance Minister Taro Aso said of the cash payout, adding that the government hoped to start payments in May.
A supplementary budget detailed payouts of 300,000 yen to households with incomes hit by the outbreak, but pressure mounted on Abe, some from within his own party, to step up the help with a payment of 100,000 yen to all citizens.
That switch would triple the cost to the government to 12 trillion yen.
The ruling party would discuss how to source the cash payments, the chief cabinet secretary said.
On Thursday, Abe extended the emergency beyond just the main population centres, including the capital Tokyo, that the measure covered when first declared on April 7. Tokyo remains the hardest-hit, with a record 201 additional cases reported on Friday for a total 2,796, its governor said.
The Cabinet Office also reported another official had tested positive for the virus, becoming its third case.
The victim, who was not identified, is in his 50s and works on the council for science, technology and innovation. He was confirmed to have the virus on Thursday, an official said.
The Cabinet Office assists the cabinet with policy coordination. Two other officials who had come within 2 metres of the man were now staying at home, the office said, adding that both have yet to be tested for the virus.
Public health centres in their towns would decide, depending on their condition, it added.
No ministers had been in close contact, generally defined as a distance of less than 2 metres, with the man since he showed symptoms on April 10, the official said, meaning they were not candidates for testing.
Separately, Taku Otsuka, a state minister of the Cabinet Office, is working from home after one of his secretaries was confirmed to have the virus, the ministry said on Friday.
Japan’s emergency allows municipalities to urge people to stay indoors, but without legal force or punitive measures. – Reuters