Japan PM Suga: Will exhaust all means to protect pandemic-hit medical system

Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso, attend the opening of the Lower House parliamentary session in Tokyo, Japan January 18, 2021. REUTERS/Issei Kato

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said on Monday his government will take all possible measures to protect the country's medical system, as hospitals creak under the strain of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Suga this month issued a state of emergency for Tokyo and three surrounding prefectures in a bid to stem a resurgence of infections. He expanded it to seven more prefectures, including Osaka and Kyoto in western Japan. [L1N2JO019]

"What is important is to provide necessary medical services to people in need. We will exhaust all measures to safeguard the medical system," Suga said in his policy speech at the start of a regular session of parliament.

"We are all ready to deploy the Self-Defence Forces' medical team if requested by governors."

Japan, though less seriously hit by the pandemic than many other advanced economies, has seen infections spike in recent weeks, prompting Japan Medical Association president Toshio Nakagawa to say the nation's medical system is collapsing.

The outbreak has forced Japan to largely shut its doors to foreigners and limit large-scale events. Administrative reform minister Taro Kono told Reuters on Thursday the once-delayed Tokyo Olympics may not go ahead as planned.

But Suga reiterated his resolve to host the Games this summer.

"We will press ahead with preparations, with determination of building watertight anti-infection measures and holding an event that can bring hope and courage to the world," he said.

Total coronavirus cases in Japan have doubled over the past six weeks to about 330,000, according to public broacaster NHK, with 4,525 fatalities.

On diplomacy, Suga called South Korea an important neighbour but said bilateral ties were in a very severe situation.

A Seoul court this month ordered Japan to compensate 12 women who had been forced to work in its wartime brothels. Japan says the issue of "comfort women," as the women are euphemistically known, was settled under a 1965 treaty, and the two countries agreed to "irreversibly" end the dispute in a 2015 deal.

"To bring relations back to an even keel, we strongly demand the South Korean side take appropriate steps," he said.

(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by William Mallard)

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