Virus cases are surging in Japan, and Abe may be bowing out
Bloomberg -- Aug 05
Japan’s tally of virus infections is shooting up faster than ever, and support for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is sinking to new lows.

While Japan’s total death toll remains close to the number the U.S. sees in a day, the public fears Japan may be sitting on a ticking time bomb. Abe’s approval slid to a record low of 35.4% in a poll published by JNN Monday. More than 60% of respondents said Abe should declare a second state of emergency to bring infections under control -- something his ministers have rejected.

Abe has come under fire for failing to hold a press briefing since June, although his main spokesman said he was in good health. After years of consolidating power, Abe may be starting to let go: Speculation over an early election has all but ended, and it looks like he’s letting potential successors vie for attention before his term as party leader ends in Sept. 2021. Asked Tuesday if he should address the media, Abe deferred to others in his cabinet.

“He no longer appears to be indispensable, the only one who can keep Japan safe,” said Tobias Harris, an analyst at advisory firm Teneo. “Instead, he has appeared indecisive, several steps behind events, and unable to communicate directly with the public.”

That has left the country in a political limbo. No one in Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party has stood out as a likely successor, while opposition parties are mired in single-digit support rates. Local leaders who have gained support for their virus management, such as Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, don’t have the political machine to win a national election.

Abe’s government has looked out of sync with public fears, seen by a push to encourage domestic travel with subsidies despite criticism it will spread the virus. Next week, Japan enters one of its busiest travel periods -- the “Obon” holidays -- and the national government hasn’t issued a blanket request for people to stay home even though some regional states are asking people not to visit.

In the latest of a series of flip-flops, Abe has ditched his ill-fitting trademark cloth mask for a larger face covering. What became known as the Abe mask, sent at great expense to all households, was derided for being too small.

News source: Bloomberg
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