Japan ditches plan to imprison COVID-19 patients refusing hospitalization

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Xinhua, January 29, 2021
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A plan to introduce prison sentences for COVID-19 patients in Japan refusing to be hospitalized was abandoned on Thursday by ruling and main opposition parties following criticism that the punishment was too severe.

The ditched plan involved making a legal revision to an existing law that would have made it possible for prison sentences of up to one year or a fine of up to 1 million yen (9,500 U.S. dollars) to be handed down to COVID-19 patients refusing hospitalization.

A fine of up to 500,000 yen for individuals refusing to comply with health officials' surveys was also being sought by the ruling party.

Hiroshi Moriyama, Diet affairs chief of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, conceded that divisions over the criminal punishments existed within the ruling party with some lawmakers feeling the proposed penalties were excessive.

"We decided to withdraw the plan after asking for a judgment by the prime minister," Moriyama said after meeting with his opposition counterpart, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan's Jun Azumi.

CDPJ chief Yukio Edano who had been campaigning for the penalties to be scrapped hailed the decision, stating at a party meeting that "We took a big step forward."

Under a new agreement between the ruling and main opposition party, COVID-19 patients who refuse hospitalization could face fines of up to 500,000 yen, while those who do not comply with health officials' surveys could be fined up to 300,000 yen.

Previous plans were to also introduce fines of up to 500,000 yen for businesses that refuse to shorten their opening hours and close earlier under a state of emergency, and up to 300,000 yen for businesses not under a state of emergency but where anti-virus requests have been made by local prefectures.

The fines will now be lowered to 300,000 yen and 200,000 yen respectively.

Government officials said that after deliberating the changes to the infectious disease law and the coronavirus special measures law in parliament on Friday, the changes will be enacted into law next Wednesday.

Under the current monthlong state of emergency that was issued earlier this month, restaurants and bars have been asked to close by 8:00 p.m. and people asked to refrain from making unnecessary trips outdoors, especially in the evenings.

The government has also urged people to work from home as far as possible and large events have seen their attendance capacity capped.

The emergency period was slated to end on Feb. 7, but government sources have said that the period would likely be extended to the end of the month and possibly expanded to cover more than just the current 11 prefectures.

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