Second time unlucky: Covid restrictions derail Japan PM's holiday - again

Shinzo Abe had planned to visit family during O-bon holiday but political rival Tokyo mayor calls on capital’s residents to stay home

Millions of people who have been forced to cancel holidays due to the coronavirus outbreak might struggle to sympathise, but Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, is among those who have had to forego their summer break – and he has a political rival to blame.

Abe, who has been criticised for his handling of a recent rise in Covid-19 infections, was reportedly due to return to his constituency in Yamaguchi prefecture this week as Japan began several days of public holidays.

But he was forced to put his vacation on hold after the governor of Tokyo, Yuriko Koike, called on residents not to leave the capital during the O-bon holiday, when people traditionally return to their home towns to visit family and pay their respects to their ancestors.

Abe had planned to visit his family grave and attend a fireworks display, according to Jiji news agency.

Japanese authorities do not have the legal powers to impose travel bans, but Abe would have drawn fresh criticism of his response to the outbreak had he taken a holiday when so many people have decided to stay at home.

Shinkansen bullet trains saw huge reductions in passenger numbers when the summer holiday season started last weekend, with seat reservations through to next Monday down 79% on last year, Kyodo news agency reported.

Reservations for domestic flights were down 60% on last year, despite the launch in July of a controversial tourism campaign aimed at boosting the virus-hit economy.

This isn’t the first time that Koike – a former defence minister who left Abe’s Liberal Democratic party [LDP] in 2017, not long after she became Tokyo’s first female governor – has ruined his holiday plans.

Abe had been planning to visit his holiday home in Yamanashi prefecture during a four-day weekend in July, only to cancel after Koike called on Tokyo’s 13.9 million residents to avoid non-essential travel outside the city amid a resurgence in cases.

Koike, who has been tipped as a future prime minister, is “always interrupting” Abe’s holiday plans, Jiji quoted a prime ministerial aide as saying.

It remains to be seen if Abe will go ahead with plans to visit his holiday home after Japan marks the 75th anniversary of its defeat in the second world war on Saturday.

“The prime minister is exhausted by a barrage of criticism,” an aide told Jiji.

An LDP lawmaker told the news agency that the sight of Abe, whose health has been the subject of speculation in recent weeks, taking a “luxurious vacation” in the middle of a pandemic “could provoke a backlash from the people”.

Japan has avoided the large number of deaths and cases seen in the US, Britain and other countries, but it is struggling to contain a rise in new infections in Tokyo and other areas since Abe lifted the state of emergency in late May.

Tokyo reported 206 cases on Thursday, bringing its total to 16,680, according to public broadcaster NHK. Japan has so far reported a total of 53,315 Covid-19 cases and 1,090 deaths, it added. The figures include those connected to the Diamond Princess cruise liner, which was quarantined in Yokohama in February.


Justin McCurry in Tokyo

The GuardianTramp

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