Japan’s Abe vows fresh emergency package against virus

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attends a news conference on coronavirus at his official residence in Tokyo, Japan February 29, 2020. — Reuters pic
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attends a news conference on coronavirus at his official residence in Tokyo, Japan February 29, 2020. — Reuters pic

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TOKYO, Feb 29 — Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Saturday pledged another emergency package to tackle the coronavirus, appealing for cooperation as he faces criticism over drastic prevention measures.

The plan comes as the government ramps up its response to the virus, which has infected at least 230 people across the country and been linked to five deaths.

“We will swiftly compile a second emergency package” by using reserve funds worth more than 270 billion yen (RM10.52 billion) in around 10 days, Abe told a news conference.

In mid-February the government set aside an initial 15.3 billion yen for the fight against the virus, including money to boost testing, strengthen inspections at borders and support manufacturers of face masks.

“On my own responsibility, I will take the best possible measures against various issues,” Abe said Saturday.

He also vowed to speed up the introduction of legislation aimed at easing the impact of the virus on people’s lives.

But Abe added that “we cannot score a victory in this battle only with the government’s efforts”.

“It is not easy to battle against the enemy that you can’t see or know well,” he said.

“But I’m convinced we will certainly overcome this.”

On Thursday Abe urged schools nationwide to close for several weeks to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.

The government cannot order schools to shut, a power that belongs to local councils, and authorities in many regions said they were not consulted about the decision.

Some local governments expressed opposition to the idea along with parents in need of child care.

Authorities say the coming two to three weeks will determine whether the outbreak can be contained, a major concern in the run-up to the Tokyo Olympics in July.

Abe pledged “full preparations by maintaining close coordination” with the Tokyo government and the International Olympic Committee.

The Japanese government has asked organisers to consider cancelling or postponing other major events, with everything from football matches to concerts already cancelled in recent days.

But a state visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping planned for the spring “remains unchanged right now”, Abe said.

Japan has also fielded criticism over its handling of a quarantined cruise ship where more than 700 people tested positive for the virus.

The Diamond Princess’s operator this week confirmed all passengers have now left the ship, while crew were disembarking to enter a new quarantine. — AFP

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