Japan’s ruling and main opposition parties agreed Thursday to scrap a plan to introduce imprisonment for COVID-19 patients who refuse to be hospitalized, in response to criticism that the punishment was too harsh.
The government had been seeking a legal revision to introduce a prison sentence of up to one year or a maximum fine of 1 million yen ($ 9,500) for such patients, as well as a fine of up to 500,000 yen for those who do not comply with epidemiological surveys by health authorities.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga (R) speaks at a House of Councillors budget committee session in Tokyo on Jan. 28, 2021, with a transparent acrylic screen set in front of him to prevent coronavirus infection. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s Liberal Democratic Party and the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan decided to scrap the idea of criminal punishment but agreed to introduce administrative fines for such people.
Under the agreement, COVID-19 patients who refuse to be hospitalized can be fined up to 500,000 yen, while those who do not comply with epidemiological surveys face a maximum fine of 300,000 yen.
The parties also agreed on another legal revision that would allow authorities to fine businesses that do not comply with orders to shorten their operating hours.
The government had been planning to slap administrative fines of up to 500,000 yen on such businesses under a state of emergency and up to 300,000 yen on those in a situation categorized as just below a state of emergency.
But the fines will be reduced to 300,000 yen in the former case and 200,000 yen for the latter.
Parliament is expected to begin deliberating the changes to the infectious disease law and the coronavirus special measures law on Friday and enact them next Wednesday.
Hiroshi Moriyama, Diet affairs chief of the LDP, admitted there had been disagreement even within the ruling party over whether the proposed criminal punishments were appropriate.
“We decided to withdraw (the plan) after asking for a judgment by the prime minister,” Moriyama told reporters following a meeting with Jun Azumi, his CDPJ counterpart.
CDPJ chief Yukio Edano welcomed the decision. “We took a big step forward,” he said at a meeting of the opposition party.
Amid a recent resurgence of coronavirus infections in Japan, Suga declared a second state of emergency covering Tokyo and three adjacent prefectures on Jan. 7 and expanded it to seven other prefectures six days later.
On Thursday, Tokyo logged 1,064 new infections, bringing the cumulative total in the capital to 97,571.
Under the declaration, the government has urged people to stay at home as much as possible and asked bars and restaurants to cut opening hours. Firms are being encouraged to adopt remote work, while attendance at large events are being capped.
But there is currently no penalty for refusing to comply with the requests and some eateries, already hit hard by the pandemic, have ignored them to avoid losing more customers.
Suga has set Feb. 7 as the end date of the state of emergency, but government and ruling party sources say it will likely be pushed back, with one option being an extension to the end of February.