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Japan PM Suga attends dinner party with celebrities in defiance of coronavirus guidance

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is seen entering the prime minister's office in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on Dec. 15, 2020. (Mainichi/Kan Takeuchi)

TOKYO -- Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga attended a large dinner party with celebrities on the evening of Dec. 14 just after announcing a nationwide suspension of the government's "Go To Travel" tourism promotion campaign, and in defiance of the government's request for prefectural governors to call for keeping such events to a maximum of four people amid the third-wave surge in coronavirus cases.

    The event prompted a rebuke from Natsuo Yamaguchi, leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)'s coalition partner Komeito, who told reporters on Dec. 15 that the prime minister's actions "send a message to the Japanese people. I'd like him to think about this carefully and consider his actions going forward."

    Large gatherings for meals have been identified as a cause of the coronavirus' spread, and the national government has asked prefectural governors to call on people using the "Go To Eat" restaurant promotional campaign to keep their parties to four people at most to lessen transmission risk.

    The dinner party was at a steak restaurant in Tokyo's Ginza district, and was also attended by LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai, Softbank Hawks baseball team chairman Sadaharu Oh, actor Ryotaro Sugi, political critic Minoru Morita, entertainer Monta Mino, and LDP Acting Secretary-General Motoo Hayashi. Prime Minister Suga apparently arrived to the gathering late, after the Go To Travel decision, and spent about 45 minutes talking with the other attendees.

    Questioned about the dinner party at a Dec. 15 press conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato denied there was any issue with the event, saying, "It's extremely important for a politician to meet people from many different backgrounds and hear a variety of opinions. Decisions on attending gatherings are not made based on whether five or more people are going to be there or if there will be any elderly guests. Rather, the decision is made based on the balance between the objective of the gathering and whether thorough anti-virus measures are in place. It's important to judge each event properly on an individual basis."

    Kato added, "The prime minister as an individual person has always taken thorough care to follow basic infection precautions. He is doing these things thoroughly, and judging (events) on a case-by-case basis in that context."

    (Japanese original by Masahiro Tateno, Political News Department)

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