Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga speaks during a meeting on COVID-19 in Tokyo, Japan. File/Reuters
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga apologised on Wednesday after lawmakers from his ruling coalition visited night clubs despite his government’s call for people to avoid unnecessary outings to curb the spread of COVID-19.
The news is another headache for Suga whose approval rating has tumbled due to dissatisfaction with his handling of the pandemic, which critics have called too slow and inconsistent.
“I’m terribly sorry that this happened when we are asking people not to eat out after 8pm and to avoid non-essential, non-urgent outings,” Suga told parliament.
“Each lawmaker should behave to gain the public’s understanding.”
Japan this month issued a state of emergency in Tokyo and other areas to tame a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases. The measure includes a request for restaurants and bars to close by 8 p.m. although there are currently no penalties for non-compliance.
“My behaviour was careless at a time when we are asking people to be patient,” Jun Matsumoto, a senior lawmaker from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, told reporters.
Matsumoto was speaking following a Daily Shincho magazine report that he had visited two night clubs in Tokyo’s posh Ginza district after dining at an Italian restaurant last Monday.
Kiyohiko Toyama, a lawmaker from the coalition’s junior partner Komeito, also apologised after tabloid Shukan Bunshun reported he had visited a high-end night club in Ginza until late last Friday.
Twitter users voiced their frustration.
“It is just a matter of time before public anger explodes. I don’t want a blanket cash-payout of 100,000 yen ($965), I want them to quit!” wrote one user.
“They are really stupid. Don’t they think about what they are doing and how the public sees them? If they don’t, they are unqualified to represent the public,” said another.
Japan saw a record 4,520 new cases on Dec.31, prompting the capital, Tokyo, and three neighbouring prefectures to seek an emergency declaration from the national government. The region now accounts for about half of new nationwide cases.
Suga, who took the top job in September after Shinzo Abe resigned citing illness, has enjoyed solid ratings of over 50%, buoyed by an image as a down-to-earth leader pushing popular policies such as lower mobile phone rates.
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The state of emergency, which is a non-binding request, centers around asking restaurants, bars and other businesses to voluntarily close at 8pm. Japan has never had a mandatory lockdown, but has managed to keep infections relatively low with social distancing and such voluntary measures.
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