New disease command centre may come after pandemic: Japan PM

TOKYO (CNA) – Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said yesterday his plan to create a government agency to better fight infectious diseases has not changed but will come into existence only after the COVID-19 pandemic is over.

While running for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) leadership last month, Kishida floated a plan to establish a health crisis management agency, but the idea has not made it to a list of LDP’s key policies announced ahead of the Lower House election set for October 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“I have not withdrawn the (idea of the) health crisis management agency,” Kishida said at a public debate with eight other party leaders.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 this command centre can be created in time for the current crisis. But in this era of infectious diseases, it is important to have such command tower-like function ready.”

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo. PHOTO: CNA

As the new LDP leader, Kishida took over the premiership earlier this month from Yoshihide Suga, who had become deeply unpopular as he struggled to contain a fifth wave of COVID-19 infections. On the LDP’s proposed policy of doubling Japan’s defence spending to two per cent of gross domestic product, Kishida said that target is not a foregone conclusion.

“The security environment is drastically changing … The time has come to think hard about what needs to be done to protect the people’s lives and livelihoods… The actual budget only comes later,” he said.

Natsuo Yamaguchi, head of the LDP’s junior coalition partner Komeito, on Friday raised doubt over the LDP policy, saying the public would not support such an increase when so many areas of social welfare need resources.

Asked about the possibility of acquiring capability to strike enemy bases, Kishida reiterated that it is worth looking into as one option, with North Korea arming itself with hundreds of missiles that can reach Japan.