Abe to change rules requiring ‘hanko’ seals to fight coronavirus

TOKYO — Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is planning to overhaul rules that require signatures using traditional seals — cited as a major obstacle in increasing teleworking and receiving financial aid — as the government races to meet its target of reducing human contact by 80% to fight the coronavirus.

Abe plans on Monday to instruct relevant Cabinet ministers to review procedures that require signatures with a seal — known as hanko or inkan — as well as face-to-face interaction, Nikkei has learned.

He also plans to hold meetings soon to discuss regulatory reform, starting with identifying unnecessary practices and regulations, aiming to eventually abolish them by submitting reform bills to parliament.

Abe set the goal of cutting human interaction by 80% when he declared a state of emergency to rein in rising coronavirus infections earlier this month. The measure allows local governments to take steps such as requesting certain businesses to close. More than two weeks have passed since it was initially declared for Tokyo and six other prefectures, though the target has yet to be achieved. Abe later made the entire country subject to the emergency.

Observers are closely watching whether he will need to extend it beyond the current May 6 deadline, which would deal a further blow to the Japanese economy.

The government believes one reason it has fallen short of the target is due to administrative procedures that require seals, face-to-face meetings and the submission of paper documents.

For example, some application documents that company officials submit to receive government coronavirus subsidies for workers need a seal signature, which requires them to physically go to employment offices.

Employees also need to go to their companies to affix the signature by pressing the seal to prepare the documents, which are crucial for companies to be able to pay workers.

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