Japan PM apologises after lawmakers' night club outings

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga speaks during a meeting on COVID-19 in Tokyo

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga apologised on Wednesday after lawmakers from his ruling coalition visited night clubs despite his government's call for people to avoid unnecessary outings to curb the spread of COVID-19.

The news is another headache for Suga whose approval rating has tumbled because of dissatisfaction with his handling of the pandemic, which critics have called too slow and inconsistent.

"I'm terribly sorry that this happened when we are asking people not to eat out after 8 p.m. and to avoid non-essential, non-urgent outings," Suga told parliament.

"Each lawmaker should behave to gain the public's understanding."

Japan this month issued a state of emergency in Tokyo and other areas to tame a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases. The measure includes a request for restaurants and bars to close by 8 p.m. although there are currently no penalties for non-compliance.

"My behaviour was careless at a time when we are asking people to be patient," Jun Matsumoto, a senior lawmaker from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, told reporters.

Matsumoto was speaking following a Daily Shincho magazine report that he had visited two night clubs in Tokyo's posh Ginza district after dining at an Italian restaurant last Monday.

Kiyohiko Toyama, a lawmaker from the coalition's junior partner Komeito, also apologised after tabloid Shukan Bunshun reported he had visited a high-end night club in Ginza until late last Friday.

Other incidents have stoked public anger.

LDP lawmaker Nobuteru Ishihara was swiftly admitted to hospital despite not showing symptoms after he tested positive for the novel coronavirus on Friday.

Yet Japan has more than 35,000 people recuperating at home as hospitals struggle to provide beds for COVID-19 patients and at least 25 people died while at home, according to a recent survey by broadcaster TBS.

"I can't feel sorry enough for the people who died in agony in their own homes after not being able to find a hospital," said one Twitter user.

(Reporting by Yoshifumi Takemoto, Kaori Kaneko, Sakura Murakami; Editing by Chris Gallagher, Raju Gopalakrishnan and Timothy Heritage)