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World News

Japan PM contender Suga suggests overhaul of health ministry

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan’s government needs to reform its health ministry after the coronavirus pandemic settles down, Chief Cabinet Secretary and prime minister hopeful Yoshihide Suga said in a newspaper interview published on Monday.

FILE PHOTO: Yoshihide Suga, Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary and ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lawmaker, speaks during a news conference to announce his candidacy for the party's leadership election, in Tokyo, Japan September 2, 2020. REUTERS/Issei Kato/File Photo

Suga, who is widely seen as the top contender to succeed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, told the Yomiuri newspaper the “the coronavirus pandemic is a huge problem that could not be handled by the health ministry alone.”

The sprawling Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, which accounts for the largest budget of all the ministries, is responsible for the country’s coronavirus pandemic measures.

Suga also told the Yomiuri it was essential to streamline the government’s digital strategies, managed separately by each respective ministry.

The remarks indicate the longtime Abe aide is eager to go his own way and push for structural changes within the government, even as he pledges to carry on with the outgoing premier’s “Abenomics” economic initiatives.

“As working from home has become more common in the times of the coronavirus pandemic, I think it’s evident that the government and private sector need to digitise,” he told a news briefing on Monday.

The remarks echo ideas floated by Heizo Takenaka, a former economy minister with close ties to Suga, who has said the government should focus on its recent goal of promoting digitalisation in Japan.

“I really hope Suga would push forward digitisation and environmental sustainability, which together would eventually lead to regional revitalisation,” Takenaka told Reuters.

“It would be good to see something like a digital agency being set up, even if it’s only temporarily,” he added.

Suga is widely expected to win the Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) leadership election on Sept. 14, a date set after Abe’s decision to step down. The winner is virtually assured of becoming premier because of the LDP’s parliamentary majority.

Reporting by Sakura Murakami; Editing by Chris Gallagher and Gerry Doyle

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