Coronavirus: Top Japan prosecutor quits after flouting social distancing guidelines

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government gave up its efforts to raise the retirement age during the current session of Parliament.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government gave up its efforts to raise the retirement age during the current session of Parliament.PHOTO: REUTERS

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

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

This flagrant disregard for official guidelines notwithstanding, Tokyo High Public Prosecutors Office chief Hiromu Kurokawa also flouted Japanese law, since bets were made and money changed hands during these games.

However, even though 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 May 13, in which two Sankei Shimbun reporters and a non-editorial staff at the Asahi Shimbun also participated, led to public vitriol after the Shukan Bunshun tabloid broke the story.

The prosecutor had already come under stiff 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 then in Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo yesterday.

Mr Abe told a news conference that the emergency declaration may be lifted in the remaining five prefectures after the next panel review next 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 last night, according to a tally by public broadcaster NHK.

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

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 under consideration.

Chiba and Saitama have reached 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 and added 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, then foreign students and leisure tourists at the final phase.