Abe presses ahead with $130bn-plus cash handout in May

TOKYO — As Japan’s state of emergency due to the coronavirus pandemic is expanded to the entire country, the government is set to hand out a total of 14 trillion yen ($130 billion) to residents “as soon as possible,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told media at a news conference on Friday.

The plan will see the government give a cash handout of 100,000 yen ($930) to every resident, regardless of income and age, to lessen the economic blow from the coronavirus outbreak.

It follows the withdrawal of an earlier proposal, under which it planned to give 300,000 yen to qualifying households that had lost income, following criticism — even by some in the ruling coalition — that it was too complicated and limited.

“In the decision-making process, I apologize for creating confusion,” said Abe at the news conference on Friday.

Although he did not specify when exactly the cash would get to households, he said it would take “another week” for it to be deliberated in the Diet, the country’s bicameral legislature.

Finance Minister Taro Aso on Friday said the cash handout would be an application-based process. He also said it should be ready by May, stressing that quick action was essential. The money will be funded by a deficit bond.

Every resident would be able to apply for the cash handout “by mail or online,” said Abe. 

In other financial support, the government will supply up to 2 million yen for small and medium-sized enterprises and up to one million yen for freelancers who have been financially affected by the pandemic.

The Japanese government expanded the state of emergency to the entire country on Thursday, from the initial seven prefectures including Tokyo, in order to contain the spread of coronavirus as new infection cases continue to rise. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government reported a record 201 cases of COVID-19 on Friday.

Abe did not make it clear whether the state of emergency and restrictions on going out would be lifted on May 6. “I will make a decision based on experts’ opinion,” he stressed.

Even under the state of emergency, Japan is struggling to curb the movement of its people. As far as possible, Abe wants to reduce human contact by “at least 70% and 80%.” However, people were still going out to Tokyo’s Shibuya or Osaka’s Umeda areas at the weekend.

“The situation is critical and [unless human contact is reduced] it will be difficult to reduce the number of new cases,” warned Abe.

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