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Politics

Abe warms to $900 payouts for all Japanese after missteps

Awkward video and 'complicated' household subsidy put prime minister on defensive

Japan's request for people to stay home and businesses to curtail operations has hurt the economy.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is now considering a cash handout of 100,000 yen ($930) to every citizen as a way to mitigate the economic blow of the new coronavirus outbreak, a move that comes as he faces increasing criticism for being out of touch with the mood of the nation.

The proposal came during a meeting Wednesday between Abe and Natsuo Yamaguchi, head of junior coalition party Komeito. Yamaguchi urged the prime minister to green light the 100,000 yen payment to all citizens, regardless of income level.

The payment would be in addition to a 108 trillion yen stimulus package announced this month, which includes a 300,000 yen in assistance to families that lost income from the outbreak.

Distributing 100,000 yen to every Japanese citizen will cost the government more than 12 trillion yen, or $112 billion.

"The prime minister said he will carefully consider the idea," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.

Abe has become suddenly receptive to the idea of the payments following a series of public relations errors.

A Kyodo News' poll conducted this week shows government approval dropped 5.1 points on the month to 40.4%. Disapproval reached 43.0%, while about 80% said Abe was too late in declaring an emergency.

One misstep went viral. The prime minister tweeted a video of himself lounging at home with his dog and sipping tea that was intended to encourage people to stay home, but instead it generated a backlash from people who were struggle with working from home and daily life under restrictions.

Public opinion is also questioning the need to spend 46.6 billion yen to distribute to cloth masks to all households.

The 300,000 yen granted to qualifying households is also under criticism, even in Abe's own Liberal Democratic Party. The prime minister was confronted at a party meeting on Monday with officials complaining that the household payments are too complicated and difficult to understand. "There is strong demand for uniform payments to all people," a party member reportedly told the prime minister.

The Komeito initially asked for the 100,000 yen payment to all citizens. When it was reported that the cash payments instead would be to households in which the monthly income of the head of household was halved, party supporters were bewildered by the compromise.

The 108 trillion yen stimulus bill is being submitted to parliament next week. Additional measures that could include the payments to individuals would only be approved after that goes through.

The national government declared a state of emergency over the coronavirus outbreak on April 7, urging citizens to stay home to stop the spread of the virus. The Tokyo metropolitan government is also asking business owners to downsize or completely shut down operations to keep the virus from spreading, in a further blow to the economy.

As of Wednesday, Japan had 8,100 confirmed cases of COVID-19, an increase of 457 from the previous day, according to the Health Ministry.

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