COVID-19 highlights Abe’s leadership failings

Author: Aurelia George Mulgan, UNSW Canberra Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s leadership capacity is being called into question in relation to how he is dealing with Japan’s COVID-19 crisis. He has appeared uncharacteristically diffident while veering between being over-hasty and too slow in his policy decisions. Abe’s typically strong and confident leadership seems to be […]

COVID-19 highlights Abe’s leadership failings

Author: Aurelia George Mulgan, UNSW Canberra

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s leadership capacity is being called into question in relation to how he is dealing with Japan’s COVID-19 crisis. He has appeared uncharacteristically diffident while veering between being over-hasty and too slow in his policy decisions. Abe’s typically strong and confident leadership seems to be missing in action.

In contrast, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike has demonstrated decisive leadership in dealing with the virus, with rumours of a power struggle between the Prime Minister’s Office (Kantei) and the Governor, and a malfunctioning Kantei led by a Prime Minister who cannot grasp the public’s sense of crisis. Explicit comparisons have been made between Koike’s tough stance in dealing with the crisis in Tokyo and what critics call Abe’s timid and sluggish response.

A poll in mid-April showed 64 per cent disapproved of Abe’s performance in dealing with the virus outbreak. Another put the proportion of those who thought Abe had failed to show leadership at 57 per cent. Criticism was directed at some of Abe’s key policy decisions, such as his sudden, unilateral and ineffective decision to close schools until the end of March and his delay in declaring a state of emergency.

Abe’s hasty proposal to give 300,000 yen (US$2800) to needy households was criticised as ‘too limited and complicated’ and retracted. The provision of two cloth face masks to all households was derided as ‘Abenomask’, ‘too late’ and ‘stupid’, with many of the masks subsequently found to be ‘defective’. These policy stumbles followed earlier criticisms of Abe being ‘invisible’ for an entire month after the first case of COVID-19 in Japan.

Although Abe partially redeemed himself with a cash handout of 100,000 yen (US$935) to all citizens, his COVID-19 performance has created political issues for him. His grip on power is now more tenuous, his political standing within his own party is weaker and his command of government policy direction is less evident than they have ever been during his prime ministership. At times his slowness and indecision seems due to his reluctance to prioritise COVID-19 over other policy priorities — first the Olympics and now business and the economy.

Japanese scholar, Jiro Yamaguchi, argues that until mid-March both Abe and Koike were prioritising holding the Olympic Games on schedule and showing Japan off to the world. Even after the Olympics were postponed on 24 March, Abe remained conflicted between sustaining economic activity and preventing the spread of the virus. The policy drift was compounded by the concentration of power in the Kantei under Abe’s prime ministership.

Although able to seek input on COVID-19 from a panel of medical and public health experts, the government’s headquarters set up to deal with the virus is only composed of cabinet members, all of whom are career politicians with political rather than public health-related priorities.

Abe’s political standing in the wider electorate has not been helped by the continuing political fallout from the Moritomo Gakuen scandal resulting in the suicide of one of the key players in the Finance Ministry earlier this year. Even former Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi called for Abe’s resignation given his clear involvement in the affair.

Abe’s political survival has continuously depended on his ability to win elections, which has shored up his standing within his own party. But if the polls show a continuing decline in his personal popularity and that of his government, this will further weaken his prime ministership.

All governments will struggle with the financial fall out from their COVID-19 countermeasures for decades to come. But Japan’s fiscal position is particularly perilous. Its total national and local debt already exceeds 1100 trillion yen (US$12.2 trillion), or 230 per cent of GDP. Japan has the worst debt-to-GDP ratio out of 188 countries.

The 100,000 yen per citizen payment will cost over 12 trillion yen (US$112 billion) — more than 10 per cent of Japan’s draft national budget for fiscal year 2020 and almost half of the new 25.6 trillion yen (US$240 billion) supplementary budget that will fund it.

A post-COVID-19 growth strategy for rebuilding the Japanese economy could require a substantial rethink of Abenomics. ‘De-Abenomics’ is now being touted as a necessary to mitigate the risks of a post-COVID-19 fiscal and currency collapse. The Japanese government states that the economy is ‘getting worse rapidly in an extremely severe situation’, the first time in 11 years that the government has used the word ‘worse’ in its assessment of the economy.

COVID-19 will almost inevitably spoil the legacy that Abe has long intended to leave — a strong, revived economy amid tourism boosted by the Olympics, and a revised constitution giving legitimacy to the armed forces. Other key policy goals — such as the restoration of Japan’s sovereignty over the Habomai and Shikotan Islands in the Northern Territories and the resolution of the abductee issue with North Korea — are similarly disappearing over the horizon.

Abe’s favourite political technique to shore up his prime ministership and the leadership of his ruling party — dissolving the lower house for a snap election — cannot even be used. It is too logistically difficult to hold an election during a pandemic.

COVID-19 has stolen Abe’s long-held policy agenda and his legacy. Abe’s position is at serious risk as some commentators are already discussing the post-Abe era and the political form that it should take.

Aurelia George Mulgan is Professor in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), Canberra.

This article is part of an on the novel coronavirus crisis and its impact.

Source : East Asia Forum More   

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Indonesia Tries an Herbal Remedy for Covid-19

Traditional medicine has undergone no clinical trials, apparently contains aphrodisiac

Indonesia Tries an Herbal Remedy for Covid-19

Indonesia has given official approval for nationwide sale of an herbal remedy for the Covid-19 coronavirus that has been criticized by medical authorities as having few medicinal properties beyond mild relief for the respiratory system such as turmeric, mint leaves, and ginger.

The mixture, called Herbavid-19, has been okayed by the House of Representatives’ Covid-19 task force without any approval or testing by medical authorities. It has been registered and obtained a distribution permit from the National Agency of Drug and Food Control, leading medical authorities to express concern that it could lead to a sense of false security instead of practicing physical distancing, wearing masks, and seeking modern medical help.

High-intensity interventions in other countries include massive coronavirus testing with a large number of participants, and implementing mandatory and binding rules regarding maintaining physical and social distance.

Attempts to control the virus, which has affected at least 11,587 people in Indonesia and killed at least 864, were initially set back by the health minister, who said Allah would protect Indonesia’s 225 million Muslims. The government delayed testing and tracking sufferers until they started turning up in Singapore in March. So far the virus has affected 3.6 million people worldwide and killed 256,000 since it was first discovered in Wuhan, China, late last year.

No clinical trials have been initiated to assess the medical efficacy of Herbavid-19. Among other things, it is believed to contain jamu, a traditional medicine made from natural materials such as roots, bark, flowers, seeds, leaves, and fruits. Other materials such as honey, royal jelly, milk, and village chicken eggs are also often used to make up jamu, according to a description on the Internet.  It is often used as an aphrodisiac.

The Jakarta-based magazine Tempo quoted Inggrid Tania, the general chair of the Association of Indonesian Traditional Medicine and Herbal Medicine Developers, as saying the Covid-19 task force had ordered doctors to give Herbavid-19 herbs to patients although some doctors, he said, refused the request by the House of Representatives to do so, apparently out of a belief it would do no good and could supplant more science-based remedies.

Andre Rosiade, a Gerindra Party politician, said Herbavid-19 could cure Covid-19, adding that: "The appearance of Herbavid-19. Alhamdulillah (with the will of Allah), many people recovered from Covid 19 after consuming Herbavid 19.

Indonesia has stumbled from one misstep to another in its attempts to control the virus. Testing is almost non-existent, with only 427 tests per million people, so there is no real way to tell how widespread the pandemic is. The country’s medical system is rudimentary at best, with only one hospital bed for every 1,000 people, the lowest in Southeast Asia according to the World Health Organization. It only has four doctors for every 10,000 beds.

About 400 new coronavirus cases have been registered each night although it’s unknown how many there really are. Some estimates run into the tens of thousands. A Reuters investigation discovered that although the number of cases remains relatively small, funerals in Jakarta have risen substantially since the virus was first detected.

Anies Baswedan, the Jakarta governor, who is becoming a rising political rival to President Joko Widodo (above left), told a press conference in early April that 283 people had been buried between March 6 to 29 using the usual procedure for Covid-19 patients even though the government’s official death toll, announced on March 31, was only 83.

 Making matters worse, Jokowi, as the president is known, waffled on the question of allowing the Jakarta conurbation’s 30 million-odd residents to make the annual journey to their rural province homes for mudik, the traditional Eid-el-Fitr holiday that ends Ramadan. As a result, an estimated 2.1 million people left the capital before police started to put up roadblocks on April 23.

No private vehicles, buses, trains, passenger ships, and airplanes can leave or enter Jabodetabek, as the five-city conurbation is known. or other PSBB areas except ambulances, trucks carrying logistics, and vehicles related to essential services. People can still travel inside the urban area. The suspension of all domestic and international flights — commercial and charter— is effective from April 24 to June 1 except for presidents and state officials, foreign guests and representatives of countries or international organizations, and cargo or passengers related to Covid-19. 

The University of Indonesia's Faculty of Public Health (FKM UI), estimated that if mudik were to go ahead as usual, it could increase coronavirus infections on the island of Java, Indonesia’s most populous, to 1 million by May 23 – Eid al-Fitr – if 20 percent or 6.5 million residents return to their hometowns for seven days. However, that figure appears to be an overestimate. There have questions whether the government will allow those who go to their villages to come back to the capital.

"Cumulatively, the number of cases will increase to one million in May to June on Java – outside Jabodetabek- if travelers return to their villages and become carriers," said Pandu Riono, an FKM UI team member. "If people from Jabodetabek do homecoming, then (the virus) will spread in all areas including villages, where health services are very limited," said Pandu, an epidemiology expert.

The FKM UI team also predicts that if the government implements a medium scale intervention, the number of patients infected with Covid-19 in Indonesia is predicted to reach 1.3 million people with more than 47,000 deaths, whereas a high-intensity intervention would result in only 600,000 with 12,000-odd deaths. In fact, the number of those who will become affected is anybody’s guess.

Source : Asia Sentinel More   

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