Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has appointed Tetsushi Sakamoto as the country’s first minister of loneliness to its cabinet this month.

In 2020 there was a surge in suicide rates in Japan for the first time in 11 years, particularly among women, according to BBC News, Tokyo.

About 879 women died by suicide in October 2020, a 70% increase compared with the same month in 2019.

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Sakamoto, who is already tasked with tackling the country’s falling birth rates and regional economies, will oversee government policies that deal with loneliness and isolation.

According to Suga, many people are not coping with isolation during the Covid-19 pandemic and various kinds of loneliness need to be addressed.

On Friday, the cabinet’s office also established a task force that seeks to address the problem of loneliness across various ministries, including investigating its impact, Japan Times reported.

In 2018, the United Kingdom appointed a minister of loneliness, which made it the first country to create such a role.

The UK also includes loneliness as a topic in government surveys and assists at-risk groups such as the youth and the unemployed.

During natural disasters and pandemics, isolation can often be exacerbated.

In 1995, after the Great Hanshin earthquake and the Fukushima earthquake and tsunami of 2011, many older victims had to move into temporary housing where they later died with nobody at their bedside, NIKKEI Asia reported.

Sakamoto said he hopes to promote activities that prevent loneliness and social isolation and protect the ties between people.

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On Tuesday, Japan extended its state of emergency to March 7.

To date, the country has 426,456 coronavirus cases, including 7,529 deaths and 401,809 recoveries, according to data portal Worldometer.