In September 2020, Yoshihide Suga
took over the role as Japan’s new prime minister, succeeding Shinzo Abe. Suga is a veteran politician who had amply proven his ability as Abe’s right hand man, but whether or not he was fit to lead Japan, the world’s third largest economy, nobody really knew.
Two of the things going on in Japan right now: the COVID-19 pandemic
and the Tokyo Olympic Games. Suga has from the beginning said that he would work toward preventing the spread of infections
, but at the same time has also been determined to hold the Tokyo Olympic Games. How has this been working out?
When Suga was first elected in September 2020, he stated that what the people wanted was for the COVID-19 pandemic to be managed and put to an end within the near future, and to rebuild the economy
. Hence, that would be what they would focus on first. In regards to the Tokyo Olympic Games, Suga
was determined for the games to be held in 2021. He said that holding the games would serve as proof that humanity had defeated the virus. Organizers and Olympic officials also insisted that the Games would be held, and the International Olympic Committee Vice President John Coates stated
that “this has to happen”. However, several polls highlighted
that a majority of Japanese companies along with the public did not believe that the Olympics would, or should be held this year.
Suga held his first policy speech
in parliament at the end of October, where he called for balancing measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus but also promote economic growth. Suga said
that “we will absolutely prevent the explosive spread of infections and protect the lives and the health of the people, and resume social and economic activities to revive the economy”. He also stated
that the government would secure COVID-19 vaccines for all people in Japan in the first half of 2021 after confirming how safe and effective they are.
In December, about two months after he was elected, the new prime minister hit on difficult times as Japan entered a third wave of infections—and a lot of anger and blame was put on one of Suga’s key policies
. Suga, who wanted to not only put an end to the virus infections, but also boost the economy, supported The Go To Travel Campaign. The campaign, which started in July 2020, was meant to boost the economy
and encourage people to go on trips, with up to half the expenses being borne by the government. Hence, Suga insisted on encouraging people to travel and spend their way through the COVID-19 crisis, which did not sit well with the public when Japan was hit with a third wave. It was now on Suga to halt the spread. He suspended the Go To Travel campaign
at the end of December, and as far as we know the suspension has still not been lifted
As the new year saw COVID-19 cases reach their highest levels, Suga declared a state of emergency
for Tokyo and the surrounding areas on January 8th. Companies were ordered to reduce the office populations by 70% by encouraging their staff to work from home. Residents
of the affected areas were encouraged to stay at home, and restaurants were ordered to close by 8pm. Suga made a vow that the government would provide each restaurant that complied with this with up to 1.8 million yen
Vaccinations started in mid-february in Japan, but nearly two-thirds of Japanese people think that the government's rollout of coronavirus vaccines
has been slow. Japan is still in the process of inoculating healthcare workers, and is striving to start vaccinating the elderly population
in mid-April. Furthermore, vaccinations for all people aged 65 or older are said to arrive at the end of June.
News from this month states that the Olympic Games
will be held, but without foreign spectators, and the torch relay
that took place on the 25th of March was also very restricted. Certain programmes will also be cancelled The government came to the insight that it would not be possible to welcome spectators from abroad since the public is worried about the coronavirus
, and more contagious variants of the virus have been found in other countries. Around 600,000 Olympic tickets
and 30,000 Paralympic tickets purchased by overseas residents will be refunded. Whether or not local spectators
will be allowed at the games has not been decided yet; this will be decided in April. Besides not allowing foreign spectators at the games, the International Olympic Committee (IOC)
Executive Board (EB) has made some decisions to cancel or reduce certain programmes, such as the IOC guest programme and the invitations to olympic athletic legends.