Japan's Suga pledges focus on coronavirus but details remain sketchy

TOKYO, Sept 3- As Japan’s ruling party seeks a new leader to replace outgoing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, health experts worry that his successor may prioritize reviving the recession-hit economy over its pledge to contain the coronavirus pandemic. “Suga will most certainly prioritize the economy over infection control,” said Fumie Sakamoto, who manages…

By Rocky Swift

TOKYO, Sept 3 (Reuters) – As Japan’s ruling party seeks anew leader to replace outgoing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, healthexperts worry that his successor may prioritize reviving therecession-hit economy over its pledge to contain the coronaviruspandemic.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, seen as the frontrunner to succeed Abe, pledged to focus on ending the epidemic,but he’s been mum on details.

Suga was seen as a key backer of a domestic travel campaignthat critics said risked spreading the infection from majorcities to the countryside.

“Suga will most certainly prioritize the economy overinfection control,” said Fumie Sakamoto, who manages infectionprevention at St. Luke’s International Hospital in Tokyo. “I’mnot expecting anything new happening under Suga’s leadership.

Disease experts advising the government said on Wednesdaythat a second wave of infections appeared to peak in late Julybut trends in Osaka, Fukuoka, and Okinawa remain concerning.

With almost 70,000 cases and 1,327 fatalities, Japan hasweathered the pandemic better than most major economies. Manyexperts attribute that success to hygiene and mask wearing amongthe Japanese populace rather than to government policies.

Of some 6 million people who have taken part in thegovernment’s Go-To Travel campaign, only 10 infections have beentied to the program, said Takaji Wakita, chairman of thegovernment’s expert panel. Even so, more study is needed, headded.

Suga pledged to carry on much of the policies initiated byAbe. He would inherit a health care system that nearly collapsedunder the burden of serious COVID-19 cases in April and May, anda bureaucratic system that has kept daily tests well belowcapacity.

Japan’s data collection system isn’t up to the task oftracking and analyzing infections, while a health alert systemhas been muddled, said Kazuki Shimizu, a researcher at theLondon School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

“The government seriously needs to review previous mistakesin health communication,” Shimizu said. “A health emergency mustnot be managed by the wishful thinking.”(Reporting by Rocky Swift; Editing by Kim Coghill)

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