Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Friday defended a travel subsidy campaign that some medical groups and experts say has fueled a third wave of coronavirus cases, and promised to finalize the size of a economic stimulus package next week.
Opinion polls show Suga's approval ratings have dipped, with many people unhappy with his handling of the pandemic since he became prime minister in September, after his predecessor, Shinzo Abe, stepped down due to ill health.
Giving his first news conference since surge in coronavirus cases last month, Suga said the "Go To Travel" campaign to revive domestic tourism was designed to help small businesses in the hospitality sector get through tough times.
"The government moved to promote the domestic travel campaign, seeing that they would not be able to continue their businesses as things were," Suga said.
But he added that the government prioritized people's "lives and livelihoods", which is why the campaign had been halted in two cities, and elderly peopled had been discouraged from traveling to and from Tokyo, where cases have risen sharply.
Besides the travel campaign, Suga promised the size of a new stimulus package to restore the economy, maintain employment and sustain business activity would be finalized next week.
He said it would include an "unprecedented" $19 billion fund to promote carbon neutrality in 2050.
The world's third-largest economy rebounded in the third quarter from a pandemic-induced slump, thanks to surging consumption and exports, but some analysts worry about slowing growth ahead because of the resurgence in infections.
Suga said the government would shoulder the cost of providing coronavirus vaccines, but did not give a specific timing for when the vaccination program would begin.