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Japanese lawmakers forgo setting rules on dining together amid virus surge

This 2019 file photo shows the Diet building. (Mainichi/Masahiro Kawata)

TOKYO --- Directors of the steering committees of both houses of the Diet decided Jan. 7 not to formulate rules on Diet members dining together during the monthlong state of emergency that Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declared the same day for Tokyo and three surrounding prefectures.

    The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) was considering limiting such dining to a maximum of four people and setting an 8 p.m. time limit, but was forced to leave regulations vague due to calls for total self-restraint from Toshio Nakagawa, president of the Japan Medical Association, among others.

    Jun Azumi, Diet affairs chief of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, earlier proposed to his LDP counterpart Hiroshi Moriyama that they formulate rules on dining together and Moriyama made the specific proposals on limiting the number of people at the gatherings and setting a time limit.

    However, Nakagawa called for refraining from group dining at night during the period, saying at a press conference on Jan. 6, "I would like Diet members to set a good example. It is wrong to say that people will not be infected if they eat in groups of four or fewer people."

    The LDP's Tsuyoshi Takagi, chairman of the House of Representatives' Committee on Rules and Administration, explained the reason for not making specific rules to reporters after a board meeting of the committee.

    "It's all about taking what the president of the medical association is saying seriously," Takagi said.

    Some opposition legislators suggested that Diet members completely refrain from eating together, but Takagi indicated that the LDP would leave the matter up to the consciences of individuals.

    In December last year, Prime Minister Suga came under fire after dining in a group of about eight people, including LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai, at a steak restaurant in Tokyo's Ginza district. At that time, a government subcommittee had been calling on the public to refrain from dining in groups of "five or more people."

    (Japanese original by Yusuke Kaite, Political News Department)

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