Ad campaign critical of Japan's coronavirus response makes waves

FILE PHOTO: A man wearing a protective face mask, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, walks in a local shopping street decorated with Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games flags, in Tokyo, Japan, May 7, 2021. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

TOKYO (Reuters) - A newspaper ad criticising the Japanese government's response to the nation's fourth pandemic wave was widely shared on social media on Tuesday as public concerns mount over COVID-19 and official plans to host the Olympics, now just two months away.

The ad, appearing in three national newspapers on Tuesday morning and paid for by a publisher known for taking stances on social and political issues, shows an illustration of the coronavirus overlaid on a black and white World War Two era photo of Japanese children training to fight with sticks.

"No vaccine, no medication. Are we supposed to fight with bamboo spears? If things continue as they are, politics are going to kill us," the ad says, noting that the public has endured a year of restrictions while the virus has continued to spread.

The full-page ad by magazine publisher Takarajimasha was a rare rebuke of the country's pandemic response by a private company. The Tokyo-based company said in a news release it was necessary to raise an alarm over the public's frustration with virus restrictions and the slow pace of vaccinations.

"We have been tricked. What was the past year for?" the ad asks.

The head of global communications at the prime minister's office did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment on the advertisement.

The public should express more outrage about the toll of the coronavirus on individuals, businesses and medical workers, Takarajimasha said in its news release.

The publisher has previously run ad campaigns on social and political issues, most recently one that highlighted how the Japanese public was diligently following virus measures.

Photos of the ad campaign were shared widely on Twitter, with posters noting it captured the public's frustration with the slow vaccine roll-out and the government's insistence that the Tokyo Olympics were going ahead as planned.

Japan on Friday extended a state of emergency to May 31 for much of the country to try to contain a fresh wave of the pandemic. The declaration covers Tokyo, Osaka and four other prefectures.

Japan still lags most wealthy countries in its vaccination roll-out. Just 2.6% of its population has been inoculated, according to a Reuters tracker, and there are reports that people are finding it difficult to book shots.

(Reporting by Ami Miyazaki, Mari Saito and Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Tom Hogue)

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