Hot topics | Coronavirus pandemic

Japan PM: New disease command center may be established after pandemic, after which a new disease control center might be created

Japan PM: New disease command center may be established after pandemic, after which a new disease control center might be created

Tokyo, Oct 18, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Monday that his intention to establish a government agency to better combat infectious diseases has not changed, although it may not be in place before the epidemic has passed.

Kishida proposed the establishment of a health crisis management agency when running for the Liberal Democratic Party's (LDP) leadership last month, but the idea has not made it to 'a list of LDP'' s key policy announcements ahead of the lower house election scheduled for Oct. 31.

"I have not withdrawn the (idea of the) health crisis management agency," Kishida said at a public debate with eight other party leaders.

"It's up to the coronavirus situation whether or not this command centre can be built in time for the present crisis." But in this era of infectious diseases, it is vital to have a command tower-like function ready."

Kishida took over the premiership earlier this month from Yoshihide Suga, who had become increasingly unpopular as he struggled to contain a fifth wave of coronavirus infections.

Kishida said that the LDP's goal of doubling Japan' defence spending to two percent of gross domestic product isn't a foregone conclusion.

"The security environment is rapidly changing... The time has come to think about what needs to be done to safeguard the people's lives and livelihoods... "The actual budget only comes later," he added.

Natsuo Yamaguchi, the leader of the LDP's junior coalition partner Komeito, on Friday raised doubts about the government'' stance, saying the public would not support such a move when so many areas of social welfare need resources.

Asked about the possibility of developing capability to strike enemy bases, Kishida said that it is worth considering as a possibility, since North Korea already has hundreds of missiles that can reach Japan.

Kishida was the only person present at the debate who opposed a bill to allow married couples to separate surnames and to improve the public's awareness of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) issues next year.

"As politicians, we must first examine carefully where ordinary people stand on the issue of allowing married couples to have separate surnames," Kishida said.

Japan's largest opposition, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ), represents rights such as supporting same-sex marriage and different surnames for couples, highlighting disagreements with the LDP ahead of the election.

The LDP is facing an opposition more united than at any time in nearly a decade and is expected to lose seats after obtaining sweeping victories in 2017.

Although the ruling bloc is unlikely to lose its lower house majority and thus its grip on power, large losses would make it more likely that Kishida will be another short-term premier.

The LDP and Komeito aim to jointly win a simple majority in the election. They controlled nearly two-thirds of the seats in the lower house, which was disbanded on Thursday.

(This story corrects to read "may not come into existence before" (not "will come to existence only after") the epidemic is over.)

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