Covid-19 is ravaging Japan; Abe may finally be bowing out

Bloomberg August 5 | Updated on August 05, 2020 Published on August 05, 2020

Cases have spiralled in the wake of what many saw as a hasty re-opening of the economy

Japan’s tally of virus infections is shooting up faster than ever, and support for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is sinking to new lows.

While Japan’s total death toll remains close to the number the US sees in a day, the public fears Japan may be sitting on a ticking time bomb. Abe’s approval slid to a record low of 35.4 per cent in a poll published by JNN on Monday. More than 60 per cent of respondents said Abe should declare a second state of emergency to bring infections under control — something his ministers have rejected.

Abe has come under fire for failing to hold a press briefing since June, although his main spokesman said he was in good health. After years of consolidating power, Abe may be starting to let go: Speculation over an early election has all but ended, and it looks like he’s letting potential successors vie for attention before his term as party leader ends in September 2021. Asked Tuesday if he should address the media, Abe deferred to others in his cabinet.

“He no longer appears to be indispensable, the only one who can keep Japan safe,” said Tobias Harris, an analyst at advisory firm Teneo. “Instead, he has appeared indecisive, several steps behind events, and unable to communicate directly with the public.”

Political limbo

That has left the country in a political limbo. No one in Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party has stood out as a likely successor, while opposition parties are mired in single-digit support rates. Local leaders who have gained support for their virus management, such as Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, dont have the political machine to win a national election.

Abe’s government has looked out of sync with public fears, seen by a push to encourage domestic travel with subsidies despite criticism it will spread the virus. Next week, Japan enters one of its busiest travel periods — the Obon holidays — and the national government hasn’t issued a blanket request for people to stay home even though some regional states are asking people not to visit.

In the latest of a series of flip-flops, Abe has ditched his ill-fitting trademark cloth mask for a larger face covering. What became known as the Abe mask, sent at great expense to all households, was derided for being too small.

Cases balloon

After dwindling in late May, coronavirus cases have ballooned in the wake of what many saw as a hasty re-opening of the economy, as the government sought to save struggling businesses. The seven-day average of daily new infections is now more than 1,000, almost twice a previous peak seen in April.

Although Abe has bounced back from blows to his approval ratings since taking office in 2012, his average support has now been drifting down for about a year, hurt by a series of scandals.

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Published on August 05, 2020
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