Japan PM vows to tackle virus as public support plunges
Japan PM vows to tackle virus as support plunges
Published: Jan 18, 2021 06:08 PM
Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga pledged on Monday to tackle surging coronavirus cases and restore normal life "as soon as possible" as polls showed plunging support for his government.

Suga, who was speaking at the opening of a new parliament session, has only been in office since September 2020, but has seen approval ratings nosedive over his government's handling of a third wave of infections. The latest wave in Japan and abroad has also cast doubt on whether the pandemic-postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympics can go ahead in 2021, but Suga repeated he was still committed to holding the Games as "proof of mankind's victory over the virus."

Journalists raise their hands to question to Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga as Suga holds a New Year's press conference at his official residence in Tokyo on Monday. Suga is considering a state of emergency declaration in Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures amid a COVID-19 surge. Photo: AFP

"To protect the lives and health of the Japanese people... I will get the situation back to normal as soon as possible," Suga said in a policy address to the Diet as it opened for a 150-day session.

The greater Tokyo region and several other parts of Japan are under a virus state of emergency set to last until February 7, but the government has been accused of waiting too long to impose the measure and sending mixed messaging on the situation.

A weekend survey by the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper showed approval for Suga's cabinet sank six percentage points from December 2020 to 39 percent, against a disapproval rate of 49 percent.

The latest readings compare with a 74 percent approval rating for his government in the same survey when he took office in September 2020.

A poll from private broadcaster ANN over the weekend showed similar results, with approval dropping to 34.8 percent from December 2020.

Suga's government has stressed the need to balance infection measures against economic impact, but was slammed for continuing to back a domestic travel campaign even as infection rates spiked. He said Monday that his government would soon submit legislation intended to toughen the rules during a state of emergency - including allowing fines for businesses that flout closure requests.