Japan coronavirus infections rise to 1,484 as minister warns impact may be worse than financial crisis

People wearing protective masks walk in the Dotonbori amusement district of Osaka, Japan, on March 14, 2020.
People wearing protective masks walk in the Dotonbori amusement district of Osaka, Japan, on March 14, 2020.PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) - The number of coronavirus infections in Japan rose to 1,484 on Sunday (March 15), increasing by a faster pace than the previous day, as Japan’s Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura warned the effect of the new coronavirus on the economy could be worse than the 2008 financial crisis. 

The total number of infections includes 697 from the Diamond Princess cruise ship and 14 returnees on charter flights from China, according to NHK data.

Speaking on Fuji Television, Nishimura called for strong measures to protect the economy, and said proper consideration should be given to whether reducing the sales tax would bolster consumption. 

Japan’s economy was already teetering on the brink of recession when the effect of the virus began to kick in, partly due to an increase in sales tax to 10 per cent in October from the previous 8 per cent. Some have called for the increase to be reversed to help encourage consumption. 

“This may be on a par with the Lehman shock, or even worse,” Nishimura said. “We need measures on the same scale, they should be bold and not limited by what’s been done before.”

His comments came after Hiroshige Seko, a senior lawmaker with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, said cutting taxes was one option, while adding that returning sales tax to its previous level would be difficult. 

Seko said nothing should be ruled out of discussions and mentioned the possibility of expanding an existing rebate system on purchases.

Economic measures should be designed to increase consumption, he said.