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Kishida unveils plan to set up pandemic crisis control unit

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TOKYO — Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Wednesday announced plans to establish an infectious disease crisis management agency to better prepare for future pandemics.

Kishida, marking the end of the current parliamentary session and weeks before national elections on July 10, said Japan had succeeded in significantly slowing COVID-19 infections, but it was still too early to “turn down our guards”. He said it was necessary to “walk the path back to ordinary life carefully” as Japan gradually resumes social and business activities as well as tourism.

Kishida, who had low public expectations when he took office in October and recorded unimpressive support ratings of 40%, has since risen steadily in popularity to over 60%, buoyed by easing public concerns. public about infection and growing concern over the Ukraine crisis.

His plan to create the infectious disease crisis management agency responded to criticism that the government was unprepared and lacked a centralized command center to manage COVID-19, and was hampered by bureaucratic divisions. in the allocation of hospital beds, testing centers and the deployment of vaccines. .

Kishida said Japan’s two major infectious disease research institutes will be unified into one that will be overseen by the health ministry and serve as Japan’s version of the United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

He also reiterated his commitment to strengthening Japan’s diplomatic and security roles to contribute to international peace at a time when it is badly shaken by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Japan has stood with the United States and Europe to sanction Russia and support Ukraine, and has also stepped up cooperation with NATO. Kishida announced on Wednesday his intention to attend a NATO summit later this month as the first Japanese leader to do so.

Kishida, at summits with US President Joe Biden and other regional leaders last month in Tokyo, has already pledged to significantly boost Japan’s military capabilities and budget.

He said protecting lives and restoring the economy had been his promise since taking office, and that “I will fulfill my responsibility as Prime Minister by delivering on the promises”.

Citing the pandemic and Russia’s war on Ukraine that have triggered global price increases, Kishida said the world is “at a historic turning point” and the upcoming elections are “for voters to pass judgment on how Japan is meeting the challenges”.

Kishida also pledged to take steps to mitigate energy and food price increases resulting from the Ukraine crisis.

The war has caused fossil fuel shortages for resource-scarce Japan, he said, pledging to maximize the development of renewable energy and speed up the restart of nuclear reactors, whose recovery has been delayed by stricter safety standards after the Fukushima disaster and a lingering anti-nuclear public sentiment. .

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