For weeks, Japanese health officials have urged citizens to cut back on daily activities, stay vigilant, and eat in small numbers to curb the resurgence of the winter wave of Covid-19 that has seen the number of daily cases reach their highest level since the start of the pandemic. .
But on Monday, Suga appeared to ignore those guidelines as he attended a meeting with seven guests, all over the age of 70, at an upscale steak restaurant in Tokyo’s Ginza district.
Speaking to reporters at the Prime Minister’s residence on Wednesday, Suga said: “There was sufficient social distance with the other attendees, but I seriously regret inviting the public to skepticism. ”
“We have taken precautions, but the number of infections remains at a high level with 3,000 new infections confirmed last weekend. We take this very seriously. Experts pointed out that group meals have higher risks, ”Suga said.
His presence at the dinner was criticized by opposition MPs. “He should have restrained himself as the infection spread. He must act as a model for the nation, ”said Tetsuro Fukuyama, general secretary of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan.
Speaking to Nippon TV, Suga said he was late for dinner and intended to greet the guests and leave, but stayed for around 40 minutes.
Hours before attending the dinner, Suga announced additional countermeasures intended to help curb the current rise in Covid-19 infections, including the suspension of a government-wide travel incentive program. of the country and financial support for restaurants.
The Go To program offered travelers up to 50% off transportation, hotels, restaurants, tourist attractions and shopping, with the aim of encouraging domestic travel during the pandemic crisis.
“I decided to take the maximum measures to limit the infection and ease the burden on the medical system, so that everyone in Japan can have a calm New Year,” Suga said at the time.
Suga, who was sworn in as prime minister in September, has inherited significant challenges as the disease has caused major disruption in the local and global economy. A public opinion poll by public broadcaster NHK on Monday found its support rate to be 42%, down 14% from the previous month. Another Mainichi newspaper poll on Saturday estimated Suga’s approval rating at 40%, down 17% from the previous month.
Japan, along with neighbor South Korea, is seeing an increase in Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations as cold winter temperatures set in. Winter was always expected to bring a spike in cases, as the cold weather sends people indoors to poorly ventilated spaces – conditions that could favor the spread of the coronavirus.
In Japan, cases have been increasing steadily since the start of last month. As of November 1, just over 600 cases were reported. Twenty days later, there were over 2,500 infections per day.
The country reported 2,988 Covid-19 cases and 51 deaths on Wednesday, bringing the national total to 187,815.
The number of patients in critical condition and in intensive care remains at its highest level since the start of the pandemic at 618 people, or 26 cases more than the day before.
Large urban centers like the capital Tokyo are reporting their highest level of infections and the number of people hospitalized is increasing. Tokyo on Wednesday reported 1,960 patients are under medical care and 69 people are in serious condition in intensive care.
Despite being one of the first countries to be affected by the virus, Japan has largely avoided the type of strict lockdown seen elsewhere in the world, opting instead for intensive border checks, contact tracing and distancing social, an experiment which was largely successful.
But the time citizens have lived under even minor restrictions – East Asia was the first region in the world to deal with the coronavirus, with precautions taken as early as January of this year – poses a risk of fatigue. .
“Please don’t get used to the coronavirus,” Japanese Medical Association president Toshio Nakagawa said at a briefing last month as cases began to increase. “Please don’t underestimate the coronavirus. ”
Neighboring South Korea is also facing its biggest increase in Covid-19 cases and health officials have warned citizens to take the restrictions seriously as the country faces the possibility of entering its first potential locking.