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TOKYO - A Tokyo restaurant operator suing the city for mandating shorter business hours decried the "hypocrisy" of health officials who flout the government's own COVID-19 contagion protocols.
Kozo Hasegawa, the operator of 43 restaurants including one that inspired the movie "Kill Bill: Volume I," is contesting the constitutionality of the measures and said that reports of bureaucrats going out at night proves they do not believe in the protocols either.
"They don't think that it's really dangerous for them to go out and drink," Hasegawa, the president of Global-Dining Inc told reporters on Tuesday. "It's hypocrisy."
The episode illustrates the growing economic strain from measures to contain the epidemic, with government data showing retail sales in Japan fell for the third straight month in February.
Restaurants in the capital region have been particularly hard hit. Although greater Tokyo area lifted a state of emergency earlier this month, it is enforcing fines against eateries that do not close by 9 p.m.
Health Minister Norihisa Tamura apologised on Tuesday after media reports that 23 ministry employees had held a late-night party at a pub in the Ginza district of Tokyo.
COVID-19 infections are down from their peak but they have trended up in recent days, raising fears of a possible fourth wave.
Hasegawa says the business restrictions are unscientific and unfair. His legal team has crowdsourced more than 17 million yen ($154,615) for legal costs and is seeking just 104 yen in damages.
Most health experts say that an adherence to hygiene rules and social distancing have helped Japan keep overall COVID-19 cases and deaths relatively low, without the kind of rigid lockdowns seen in other countries.
A Tokyo Metropolitan Government representative declined to comment on Global-Dining's lawsuit. The health ministry did not immediately respond when asked for comment. REUTERS