THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
March 10, 2020 at 19:19 JST
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, center right, addresses a meeting March 10 of the government task force dealing with the coronavirus outbreak while Katsunobu Kato, the health minister, looks on. (Takeshi Iwashita)
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced a second package of support measures March 10 for those affected by the government's decision to close schools because of the spread of the coronavirus.
The steps include providing subsidies for so-called freelancers, those without regular work contracts, who are forced to take time off from their jobs to care for school-age children stuck at home as well as refunds of school lunch money to parents for meals not provided during the period when schools are closed.
Abe on Feb. 27 asked all schools in Japan to close and most had complied by March 2. The closures are expected to continue until the start of spring vacation at the end of March.
Another measure will expand the capacity to provide a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test to check for coronavirus infection to up to about 7,000 individuals a day.
Abe announced the steps at a meeting of the government task force responding to the coronavirus outbreak.
He said further measures were needed and pledged the government would continue to closely monitor the trend in new infections as well as economic developments in both Japan and overseas.
The first round of measures announced Feb. 13 centered on strengthening quarantine and coronavirus testing as ways to keep infected individuals from entering Japan.
The government had already implemented a program to subsidize the wages of company employees forced to take time off due to the school closings. Some of that money will now be made available to those who work without regular contracts.
The latest measure comes on the heels of a Feb. 29 news conference by Abe in which he said support measures would be provided regardless of whether a worker was a regular employee or not. While a new subsidy program was implemented for those working at companies, it did not extend to those without a secure safety net.
Criticism raised by both the ruling and opposition parties led to the latest change. A uniform allowance of 4,100 yen ($39) per day will be paid across the board.
The government will also raise the limit for emergency small loans to individuals from 100,000 yen to 200,000 yen. The loans are intended to help individuals in need of cash after being forced to take time off from work. A new provision will be included to forgive repayment for those whose annual income drops by 20 percent.
The government will also establish a new loan program for small businesses, including individual entrepreneurs, that experience a sharp drop in sales due to the coronavirus outbreak. Those loans will, in principle, be interest- and collateral-free.
The government will also purchase in bulk 15 million face masks for medical institutions and ban the reselling of face masks over the internet.
He also indicated he would ask event organizers to abide with a government request for the next 10 days or so to refrain from holding events that attract large crowds.
"While we asked for a cancellation, postponement or scaling back of national events, we now ask for further cooperation in continuing with such moves for about 10 days or so until the government panel of experts compiles its views" on the coronavirus outbreak, Abe said.
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