Photo/Illutration Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga prepares to respond to questions from reporters on Nov. 21 after a meeting of officials handling the novel coronavirus pandemic. (Toshiyuki Hayashi)

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is toning down a major policy initiative he was strongly pushing to help stimulate the economy ravaged by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

He told a Nov. 21 meeting of officials to discuss further measures to prevent a spread of COVID-19 that the government “will introduce a measure to temporarily stop taking new reservations under the Go To Travel campaign for destinations where infections are on the rise.”

Suga added that for areas where infections are spreading at a certain pace, “We will take that into consideration and cooperate with prefectural governors to implement stronger measures.” 

He said he would also ask prefectural governors to take measures to scale back on sales of coupons or use of points in the Go To Eat dining out program.

The Go To Travel program started in July when Suga still served as chief Cabinet secretary.

He explained in the Diet on Nov. 20 that about 40 million people had used the campaign and so far 176 travelers had been confirmed with COVID-19.

While the Go To Travel program was a symbolic measure to prop up the economy during the pandemic, the Japan Medical Association and the Tokyo Medical Association in recent days had lobbied for it to be suspended, saying it served as a catalyst for more infections.

The government’s panel of experts on Nov. 20 also requested that the campaign be reviewed in light of record numbers of daily COVID-19 cases.

While the panel found no solid evidence to show the campaign was a particular key factor behind the recent surge in infections, it said the overall negative economic effect could be kept to a minimum if a review of the program is undertaken quickly to bring down COVID-19 cases.