Japanese PM Suga to hold news conference amid third coronavirus wave

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, is set to hold a news conference to provide an update on the country’s pandemic response on Friday, his first since coronavirus case numbers surged in November.

FILE PHOTO: Yoshihide Suga speaks during a news conference following his confirmation as Prime Minister of Japan in Tokyo, Japan September 16, 2020. Carl Court/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

Suga is expected to explain his backing of a widely criticised travel subsidy campaign meant to help revive the economy amid infection controls.

In recent weeks, a third wave of the coronavirus has arrived in parts of the country, and some medical groups and experts blame it on a government campaign to encourage domestic tourism.

The government lacks “active and correct” measures against the virus and has focused on the economy, Dr. Haruo Ozaki, president of the Tokyo Medical Association, said on Friday.

Suga’s approval ratings have dipped, with many unhappy with his handling of the pandemic, polls showed. That could deal a blow to his plan to prop up local economies and may threaten the chances of his premiership beyond next autumn.

The government has paused its “Go To Travel” campaign in two cities, but Suga said on Thursday the travel subsidy programme would be extended beyond the original end date of January 2021.

“We need to support the tourism industry, which is indispensable for the local economy,” Suga told a tourism strategy meeting.

The world’s third-largest economy rebounded in the third quarter from a pandemic-induced slump, thanks to surging consumption and exports, but some analysts worry about slowing growth ahead because of the resurgence in infections.

His news conference will take place at 6 p.m. local time (0900 GMT), according to the Prime Minister’s Office.

Suga also faces a political controversy involving his predecessor, Shinzo Abe, who resigned in September.

He was widely seen as Abe’s right-hand man during his tenure and has defended him in parliament.

Tokyo prosecutors are investigating Abe’s aides over allegations of violating a funding law and seeking to question Abe, domestic media reported.

On Friday, Abe told reporters that he and his office would cooperate with the probe, but declined to comment further because the investigation was under way.

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