Japan PM apologises after lawmakers' night club outings


FILE PHOTO: Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga delivers a policy speech at the opening of the Lower House parliamentary session in Tokyo, Japan January 18, 2021. REUTERS/Issei Kato

TOKYO (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 8 p.m. 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.

(Reporting by Yoshifumi Takemoto and Kaori Kaneko; Editing by Chris Gallagher and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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