Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, on Friday, Sept. 3, announced he is stepping down from his post over the struggle to control the new COVID-19 wave in the country.

According to the Financial Times, Suga said he would not participate in the Liberal Democratic party’s leadership race this September, ahead of a general election the following month.

“I did consider running, but it requires enormous energy to do coronavirus measures as well as an election campaign. I cannot do both. I must focus on COVID-19 measures,” Suga said according to The Independent.

Because of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s dominance in Japan’s lower house, he would have secured a second term as Prime Minister despite growing criticisms against him over how the COVID-19 measures had been carried out in the country.

With much of the country’s major cities still under a COVID state of emergency, Suga’s approval rating has dropped below 30%, raising predictions that the LDP would face a difficult general election, the Financial Times noted.

Like his predecessor Shinzo Abe, Sugar departed his position prematurely after only a year of leadership. Abe left because of medical complications.

Suga had been hammered by his administration’s reaction to the pandemic, with Japan dealing with a record fifth wave of the virus following a sluggish vaccination rollout.

Much of the country was under COVID-19 restrictions for months, with some living with the protocols for almost an entire year. 

Despite the efforts, including more push for vaccination, situations in the country had been ghastly. 

Data from Worldometers shows that Japan reached a record new cases during the third week of August, with 26,121 instances reported. While new infections had slowly plummeted to 19,259 cases, the death toll meanwhile was growing over the week from just 35 fatalities last Monday to 85 as of Sept. 2.

Japan, with approximately 126.3 million citizens, only had 45.4% of its community fully vaccinated.

The Independent noted Suga’s abrupt departure could be a political move, so his party could have new leaders whose name had not been recognized for their poor handling of the COVID-19 outburst in the country.

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