As if Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga didn’t have enough on his plate already, what with growing criticism of the government’s coronavirus response and an economy to rescue. Now he’s taking flak for a recent steak dinner where he appeared to flout social-distancing guidelines, report Satoshi Sugiyama and Ryusei Takahashi.

Suga joined six others, including senior officials with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, on Monday evening for a gathering at a high-end steak restaurant in Tokyo, according to reports. All were over 70, a high-risk demographic for the virus. Suga’s government has also advised against eating in groups of more than four people, elderly or otherwise.

A day later, Suga met Haruyuki Takahashi, executive of the Tokyo Games organizing committee, and two executives from a local TV network at another steak restaurant, local media report. Reuters points out that Takahashi played a key role in securing the support of a former Olympics power broker suspected by French prosecutors of taking bribes to help Japan’s bid.

COVID-19: Japanese PM under fire for attending year-end gatherings as cases surge
 | CNA
COVID-19: Japanese PM under fire for attending year-end gatherings as cases surge | CNA

In fact, the whole furor illustrates the key quandary for Suga and co., Bloomberg notes: The septuagenarian leader needs to get more people of his own, wealthier generation spending if he wants to keep the economy’s recovery on track over the coming months, yet oldsters are also the most vulnerable to COVID-19.

So, while much of Suga’s latest ¥73.6 trillion stimulus package focuses on making the economy greener and more digitalized in the future, its near-term fate depends more on making sure it’s safe for older people to spend both in their neighborhoods and on trips. That, however, is unlikely to happen in the short term, with the suspension of the Go To Travel campaign and daily coronavirus cases in Japan continuing to break records. On Wednesday, Tokyo reported a fresh high of 678 new COVID-19 cases, while the nationwide figure was close to 3,000.

Wednesday’s (and Tuesday’s) new COVID-19 cases by prefecture (20 or over): Tokyo 678 (460), Osaka 396 (306), Kanagawa 287 (226), Aichi 248 (216), Saitama 179 (173), Fukuoka 141 (69), Hyogo 135 (114), Chiba 123 (119), Kyoto 97 (71), Hiroshima 92 (71), Hokkaido 86 (104), Gunma 63 (25), Miyagi 45 (37), Gifu 41 (35), Okinawa 36 (21), Okayama 32 (21), Shizuoka 31 (24), Kochi 28 (36), Kumamoto 25 (32), Nara 25 (18), Ibaraki 23 (18), Tochigi 23 (35), Fukushima 21 (15). Source: Japan COVID-19 Coronavirus Tracker