Japan will give national public employees up to 10 days of paid leave a year to receive fertility treatments starting next January, in a bid to support couples hoping to have a baby as the country grapples with a rapidly declining birth rate.

"The public sector will take the initiative," Yuko Kawamoto, president of the National Personnel Authority, said Tuesday at a press conference, indicating she hopes the move will encourage the private sector to follow suit.

A mother and her 3-year-old son are pictured in Tokyo in June 2020. (Kyodo)

An online survey, conducted in January and February, receiving responses from roughly 47,000 national public employees, showed 1.8 percent were undergoing fertility treatment while 10.1 percent said they have experience with it and 3.7 percent said they had considered it.

Among people who have experienced fertility treatment or were considering it, 62.5 percent said it was "very difficult" to balance it with work while 11.3 percent said it was "impossible," the most common reasons being the need to make frequent visits to the doctor, cost and scheduling conflicts with work.

The National Personnel Authority's new scheme aims to ease the burden by enabling full-time and part-time national public employees to take five days of paid leave, with five additional days available if necessary.

The time off can be broken up and used flexibly, such as by taking a few hours off to see the doctor during work, for example.

Increasing access to fertility treatment has been a focus for Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who pushed for it to be covered by Japan's public health insurance from next April.

The number of babies born in Japan fell to a record low of 840,832 in 2020, with the recent downward trend exacerbated by the social and economic impact of COVID-19.

The total fertility rate, or the average number of children a woman is expected to give birth to in her lifetime, stood at 1.34, down from the previous year by 0.02 point.

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