TOKYO: Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga may further restrict a much criticised travel subsidy programme in a bid to contain mounting coronavirus infections, as his approval rating plummets over the handling of the pandemic.
Suga will chair a coronavirus meeting late on Monday (Dec 14) to discuss plans regarding the travel campaign, the prime minister's office said.
He is expected to halt the travel campaign to the capital Tokyo and the city of Nagoya in the large industrial hub of Aichi prefecture, local media reported.
The governors of the Tokyo and Aichi, which includes the city of Nagoya, have said they are in discussions with the central government to decide whether to halt the programs in the regions.
The "Go To Travel" campaign, aimed at boosting regional economies and helping hotels and airlines, has helped stimulate demand for tourism, government spokesman Katsunobu Kato told a news conference.
But while the government aims to promote economic activity, it also wants to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Kato added. "That balance depends on the situation in each region," he said, without elaborating further.
Despite concerns by experts that the travel campaign may help spread the virus, Suga has insisted an immediate halt to the entire campaign is not under consideration.
Local media on Sunday flagged cuts to the travel campaign, while Osaka Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura on Saturday said he had asked the government to extend the suspension of the tourism programme imposed on the Osaka region.
While Japan has not seen the kind of massive outbreaks that have hit the United States and parts of Europe, infections have worsened as winter has set in, particularly in regions such as the northern island of Hokkaido and the city of Osaka.
The country recorded more than 3,000 new infections for the first time in one day on Saturday and Tokyo, Japan's capital and largest city, confirmed 621 new cases.
Tokyo has asked bars and restaurants to close by 10 pm during a three-week period that ends this week. Governor Yuriko Koike is set to extend this period, Kyodo News reported.
Japan's government has paused the travel campaign only in two hardest-hit areas.
"If the economy is destroyed, then it can become serious trouble," Suga said during an online town hall on Friday.
Over the weekend, polls found public support for the prime minister has eroded over his handling of the pandemic. A Mainichi newspaper poll on Saturday had his approval rating down to 40 per cent, a 17 per cent point fall from last month, as has disapproval rating exceeded his approval rate for the first time.
Only three months in office after his predecessor Shinzo Abe abruptly resigned due to ill health, Suga has also come under pressure because of other controversies, including his rejection of scholars on a science advisory panel.