Japan withdraws controversial policy to pressure restaurants to stop serving alcohol

The central government announced on Friday that it would withdraw its intention to ask financial institutions to ensure that restaurants comply with the ban on serving alcohol during the state of emergency, just one day after presenting the initiative as a means of strengthening its anti-coronavirus response.

Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister in charge of the coronavirus response in Japan, unveiled the controversial policy the day before, drawing criticism that the government was trying to use lenders to pressure these establishments.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato, who has received complaints about Nishimura’s remarks from senior officials of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, told reporters the government no longer intends to investigate support from financial institutions.

Nishimura told him he would withdraw the policy because it had failed to gain public understanding, Kato said.

Earlier on Friday, Nishimura told reporters the government would try to “right the injustice” felt between establishments that sincerely obey the government’s demand not to serve alcohol and those that do not.

Nishimura’s remarks on Thursday drew criticism from the main opposition party, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, which called the measure a threat to restaurants and bars.

“He is just trying to threaten (the restaurants) and put constraints on them,” said Jun Azumi, the CDP’s Diet affairs chief, calling Nishimura’s attitude “condescending.”

He urged Nishimura to “resign immediately before angering the public”.

Azumi’s counterpart in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, Hiroshi Moriyama, and the party’s chief deputy general secretary, Mikio Hayashi, also asked Kato to tell Nishimura to be careful not to make remarks. which lead to misunderstandings.

Before retracting, Kato had said in a regular press conference that “the point is we want financial institutions to call for full implementation of anti-coronavirus measures.”

“We would like financial institutions to support (restaurants) in terms of funding,” he added.

Nishimura said on Thursday that the government would share information with financial institutions about restaurants of their customers who were not complying with the alcohol ban request and would seek institutions to ask them to follow the request.

“The demand (from financial institutions) would not be based on the law. It is not intended to restrict funding ”to restaurants, the minister said.

Nishimura also said that day that the government would ask companies that make alcoholic beverages to stop selling drinks to restaurants during the state of emergency.

As part of the state of emergency, which will be applied in Tokyo from Monday and extended to Okinawa, the government will ban restaurants from serving alcohol and maintain its request to close at 8 p.m.

In prefectures where a quasi-state of emergency will be extended until August 22, such as Chiba, Saitama, Kanagawa and Osaka, restaurants are asked not to serve alcohol in principle. But they can until 7 pm according to the decisions of the governors.

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