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Japan PM Suga apologizes for asking wholesalers to facilitate alcohol ban

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga apologized Wednesday for his administration’s controversial request that drinks wholesalers stop supplying liquor to restaurants and bars that have defied an alcohol sales ban aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus.

“I offer my apologies for causing trouble to many people,” Suga told reporters a day after the government withdrew last week’s request that wholesalers stop supplying establishments in areas under the COVID-19 state of emergency that have continued serving alcohol.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga meets the press at his office in Tokyo on July 14, 2021, apologizing for a controversial plan, retracted after a day, to have financial institutions help enforce a ban on eateries serving alcohol in the capital to curb the spread of COVID-19. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

Unwilling wholesalers pushed back against government pressure to cut off supplies, with eateries hit hard by the pandemic also unhappy with the development.

Frustration over the request, along with an already retracted government plan to solicit financial institutions’ help in enforcing the alcohol ban, has led to calls for Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister in charge of the coronavirus response, to step down.

Suga declined to comment on the status of Nishimura, who suggested the controversial plans last week, saying only that it is important that the minister “explain (government anti-virus policies) in detail.”

Under the COVID-19 state of emergency currently covering the capital and southern Japan’s Okinawa through Aug. 22, restaurants and bars are prohibited from serving alcohol and are required to close by 8 p.m.

Some dining establishments have defied the restrictions amid the government’s slow payout of “cooperation money” for businesses that comply.

Related coverage:

Japan gov’t under fire for plan to use lenders to enforce alcohol ban

Tokyo enters 4th COVID-19 emergency, covering Olympics period

Japan retracts controversial policy over alcohol-serving restaurants

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