By Leika Kihara
TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is under pressure to take bolder steps to soften the economic blow of the coronavirus, with calls from his political partners to hand out more cash to more people.
The government announced a nearly $1 trillion stimulus package last week including cash payouts of 300,000 yen ($2,800), but only for households whose income is judged to have been hit by the coronavirus.
Calls are growing for more help, including a blanket payout to all citizens, as governments in some other countries have done as the coronavirus devastates economies around the world.
Natsuo Yamaguchi, head of the Komeito party – the junior partner in the coalition government – urged Abe’s administration to make a payment of 100,000 yen ($935) to every citizen.
“The pandemic is having a profound impact on social activity and the economy. I’ve urged the prime minister to make a decision and send a strong message of solidarity to the public,” Yamaguchi told reporters after meeting Abe on Wednesday.
“It’s necessary to act as quickly as possible,” he said.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the government would consider Yamaguchi’s request after passing this year’s supplementary budget through parliament.
His call was not the first.
On Tuesday, Toshihiro Nikai, a top member of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, called for the government to compile a second supplementary budget to fund a 100,000 yen cash payout to every citizen.
Government officials have ruled out across-the-board payouts, arguing that targeted support to low-income households hit hardest by the outbreak would be a more effective use of taxpayers’ money.
Abe’s administration is hoping to pass through parliament later this month an extra budget worth 16.8 trillion yen to fund part of the stimulus package.
Japan had 8,191 cases of infections of the coronavirus as of Wednesday, excluding those from a cruise ship quarantined in February, with 162 deaths, according to public broadcaster NHK.
Last week, the government declared a state of emergency in major population centres to combat the virus, urging citizens to stay at home and some facilities to shut down.
Economy minister Yasutoshi Nishimura has said the government was ready to spend more once there was more clarity on the degree of damage the coronavirus was inflicting on companies and households.
Japan’s economy was already facing a recession before the coronavirus outbreak began. Now the pandemic is hitting global and domestic demand, emboldening proponents of loose fiscal policy despite the biggest public debt among industrialised nations.
(Reporting by Leika Kihara; Editing by Robert Birsel)