Coronavirus pandemic

Top Japan prosecutor quits after flouting social distancing guidelines

Mr Hiromu Kurokawa's two mahjong sessions turned out to be too risky a gamble.
Mr Hiromu Kurokawa's two mahjong sessions turned out to be too risky a gamble.

A top Japanese prosecutor resigned yesterday, bringing a four-decade career to a shameful end, after he took part in two mahjong games.

Such non-essential social gatherings are discouraged during Japan's state of emergency in an effort to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Besides the disregard for official guidelines, Mr Hiromu Kurokawa, chief of the Tokyo High Public Prosecutors Office, also flouted the law, since bets were made and money changed hands during these games.

Although the law bans unauthorised gambling, this is not strictly enforced in the case of small one-off bets made in private settings.

Still, the two mahjong sessions - on May 1 and 13 in which two Sankei Shimbun reporters and an Asahi Shimbun worker also took part - led to public vitriol after the Shukan Bunshun tabloid broke the story.

Mr Kurokawa had already come under scrutiny over his close ties with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, after laws were reinterpreted to allow him to remain in his post despite reaching the mandatory retirement age of 63 earlier this year.

Japan's state of emergency over the Covid-19 pandemic was first enforced in seven of the worst-hit areas on April 7 and then expanded nationwide on April 16.

The decree was lifted in 39 areas last Thursday, and in Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo yesterday.

Mr Abe told a news conference the emergency declaration may be lifted in the remaining five prefectures after the next panel review on Monday, a few days before the decree is due to expire on May 31.

Tokyo, Chiba, Kanagawa, Saitama and Hokkaido are still under the state of emergency.

Japan had 16,516 recorded Covid-19 cases and 789 deaths by 7pm yesterday, according to a tally by public broadcaster NHK.

Tokyo had 11 new cases yesterday, marking the 12th straight day the metropolis of 14 million had reported fewer than 30 cases. Kanagawa recorded 10 new cases.

These two areas, along with Hokkaido, have not fallen below the government required limit for lifting the state of emergency. For that to happen, new weekly cases must fall below 0.5 per 100,000 residents. The government also takes medical care capacity and testing capacity into consideration.

Chiba and Saitama have hit the desired low infection numbers but are considered as one bloc with Tokyo and Kanagawa due to many people moving among the four areas.

Osaka Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura said last night that closure requests will continue for businesses that are deemed high risk, including live music clubs, sports clubs and karaoke outlets.

Dr Takeshi Shimazu, who chairs the Japanese Association for Acute Medicine, said in a statement last week that the country's health infrastructure continues to be under serious and sustained pressure, even with the decline in cases.

Medical professionals are overworked and hospital beds and personal protective equipment are in short supply, he said, adding that preparations should be made for a surge in infections.

Separately, the Nikkei reported yesterday that the government was looking into a timeline for easing border entry restrictions, which it intends to do over three phases.

Business travellers will get the green light first, followed by foreign students and leisure tourists.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 22, 2020, with the headline Top Japan prosecutor quits after flouting social distancing guidelines. Subscribe