• Kyodo

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The central government said Friday it will retract its plan to ask financial institutions to ensure restaurants follow the ban on serving alcohol during a state of emergency, only a day after it put forward the initiative as a way to strengthen its anti-coronavirus response.

Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister in charge of Japan’s coronavirus response, unveiled the controversial policy the previous day, drawing criticism that the government was attempting to use lenders to pressure such establishments.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato, who received complaints about Nishimura’s remarks from senior members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, told reporters the government no longer intends to seek the support of financial institutions.

Nishimura told him he will retract the policy as it had failed to secure the understanding of the public, Kato said.

Earlier Friday, Nishimura told reporters that the government would try to “fix the unfairness” felt between establishments that are earnestly obeying the government’s request not to serve alcohol and those that are not.

Nishimura’s remarks Thursday had drawn criticism from the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, which called the measure nothing but a threat to restaurants and bars.

“He is merely trying to threaten (the restaurants) and add constraints on them,” said Jun Azumi, the CDP’s Diet affairs chief, calling Nishimura’s attitude “condescending.”

He urged Nishimura to “resign immediately before drawing anger from the public.”

Azumi’s counterpart at the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, Hiroshi Moriyama, and the party’s chief deputy secretary-general, Mikio Hayashi, also asked Kato to tell Nishimura to be careful not to make remarks that invite misunderstandings.

Before retracting the policy, Kato had said at a regular news conference that, “The point is that we want financial institutions to call for thorough implementation of anti-coronavirus measures.”

“We would like financial institutions to support (restaurants) in terms of financing,” he added.

Nishimura said Thursday the government will share with financial institutions information about their client restaurants that are not complying with the alcohol ban request and will seek to have institutions ask them to follow the request.

“The request (by the financial institutions) would not be based on law. It is not aimed at restricting financing” to the restaurants, the minister said.

Nishimura also said that day that the government will ask companies that make alcoholic beverages to stop selling drinks to restaurants during the state of emergency.

Under the state of emergency, to be implemented in Tokyo from Monday and extended in Okinawa, the government will prohibit restaurants from serving alcohol and maintain its request for them to close by 8 p.m.

In prefectures where a quasi-state of emergency will be extended to Aug. 22, such as Chiba, Saitama, Kanagawa and Osaka, restaurants are asked not to serve alcohol in principle. But they can until 7 p.m. depending on governors’ decisions.

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