• Kyodo

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Japan is set to enact laws to introduce fines for people and businesses that do not comply with measures for preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus following deliberations in the Upper House that started Tuesday.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party led by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga backed down on a controversial proposal to imprison COVID-19 patients who refuse to be hospitalized after facing criticism from the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party that such a step would be excessive.

The legislation also allows designation of a precursor situation to a state of emergency in which special measures to combat the spread of the virus can be taken.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told a plenary session of the House of Councilors on Tuesday the government would be careful when deciding to introduce such designations, taking into account the impact on people and swiftly reporting to the Diet if there is any change to the precursor situation length or target areas.

His remarks were in line with a resolution adopted by the House of Representatives the day before. The legislation — revisions to the coronavirus special measures law and the infectious disease law — passed the Lower House on Monday and is expected to be enacted Wednesday following approval by the upper chamber.

In the Diet, Suga also apologized to people after senior members of the ruling coalition were found to have visited hostess bars in Tokyo’s posh Ginza district despite the general public being urged to refrain from nonessential outings under the current state of emergency over the virus.

“It is extremely regrettable that something that should not have happened took place when we are supposed to set an example. I apologize from the bottom of my heart,” Suga said.

The bill on the infectious disease law calls for introducing fines of up to ¥500,000 for COVID-19 patients resisting hospitalization and ¥300,000 for those who fail to participate in epidemiological surveys by health authorities.

The government had originally sought to introduce a prison sentence of up to one year or a maximum fine of ¥1 million for people who refuse to be hospitalized after testing positive for the coronavirus, and a fine of up to ¥500,000 for those who do not cooperate with epidemiological surveys.

The other bill on the coronavirus special measures law also calls for fines of up to ¥300,000 for restaurants and bars that do not cooperate with orders to shorten their operating hours under a state of emergency and up to ¥200,000 for those not cooperating in a precursor situation categorized as just below a state of emergency.

The government had been planning to impose fines of up to ¥500,000 in the former scenario and ¥300,000 in the latter.

Under the state of emergency, the government has urged people to stay at home as much as possible and asked bars and restaurants to cut opening hours. Firms are being encouraged to adopt remote working, while attendance at large events is being capped.

But unlike other countries that have imposed serious penalties for noncompliance, Japan currently has no penalty for those refusing to cooperate with the requests.

Some bars and restaurants, already hit hard by the pandemic, have ignored the request to avoid losing more customers.

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