Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga apologized Wednesday in parliament after executives of the ruling coalition were reported to have visited hostess bars in Tokyo’s Ginza district, defying a state of emergency that urges people to avoid unnecessary outings.
Jun Matsumoto, acting chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party’s Diet Affairs Committee, and Kiyohiko Toyama, acting secretary general of Komeito, both admitted visiting such bars last week.
The revelations come at a time when the government is considering extending the state of emergency, which also entails asking restaurants and bars to shorten their opening hours, by about a month from its current scheduled end on Feb. 7.
“As we have asked the people to refrain from going out, I am extremely sorry,” said Suga at the House of Councillors’ Budget Committee.
According to an online report by the weekly magazine Shukan Shincho, on Jan. 18 Matsumoto left a restaurant before 9 p.m. and went to two hostess bars in Ginza until 11:20 p.m.
Another weekly magazine, Shukan Bunshun, reported that Toyama made a visit to a hostess bar in Ginza late Friday evening.
Under the state of emergency, people are being asked to stay home and restaurants are requested to close by 8 p.m.
Suga himself came under fire after taking part in two dinner gatherings in Tokyo in mid-December while the government was urging people to refrain from eating in large groups to contain the spread of the virus.
He later apologized over the gatherings, first at a luxury hotel with about 15 people and then at an upscale steakhouse with eight people present.
The central government declared a state of emergency for Tokyo and three adjacent prefectures on Jan. 7 and expanded its scope to seven more prefectures including Osaka, Aichi and Fukuoka six days later.
Sources have said the state of emergency could remain in place until the end of February, with a growing number of people in the administration and the ruling coalition deeming it necessary to extend it for the parts of the country continuing to see a high number of coronavirus cases.
Suga suggested, meanwhile, that the resumption of the government’s much-touted Go To Travel subsidy program promoting domestic tourism is not yet in sight. The campaign, which effectively covers up to half of people’s travel expenses, was halted on Dec. 28 amid a resurgence of the virus.
Suga told the Upper House committee the campaign will not restart without public support, while stressing the government is “united in the fight to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.”
On Tuesday, Suga admitted Japan’s medical system has been ill-prepared to deal with the surge in COVID-19 patients, acknowledging that more lives may have been saved had proper treatment been available.
The rare admission of fault comes as public support for Suga’s administration continues to dwindle amid mounting dissatisfaction with his pandemic response.
Asked by opposition lawmaker Kiyomi Tsujimoto in a House of Representatives committee meeting whether he felt responsible for COVID-19 patients that died at home after being turned away from hospitals, Suga said “as the one in charge, I feel terribly sorry.
“We have not been able to provide the necessary care, and I recognize that because of this the Japanese people are feeling anxious,” Suga said.
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