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Court finds COVID restrictions for Tokyo restaurant chain illegal

Plaintiff Global-Dining said the orders were unconstitutional, court disagrees

Global-Dining President Kozo Hasegawa, center, speakers to reporters following a court ruling regarding an order by the Tokyo metropolitan government to reduce business hours during the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Jun Kimiya)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- A Japanese court ruled Monday that an order by the Tokyo metropolitan government for a restaurant chain operator to reduce business hours amid the coronavirus pandemic was illegal, finding the case did not fulfill certain conditions.

But the Tokyo District Court rejected a claim by Global-Dining Inc. that imposing blanket restrictions without offering evidence that eateries are a source of infections violates the freedom of business guaranteed under the Constitution.

The company, which runs dozens of restaurants, including a Japanese-style pub famous for its scene in Quentin Tarantino's film "Kill Bill," immediately appealed the ruling.

Following last year's revision to a coronavirus special measures law, prefectures could order restaurants and other businesses to cut operating hours during a state of emergency if they defied the initial request without a valid reason.

The court found that the order issued in March last year to Global-Dining did not meet the requirement under the law that such an order must be issued only when "especially needed."

Global-Dining has said it took sufficient precautionary measures to prevent infections among its staff and customers while adding that the order took aim at the company, which had publicly voiced its intention to disobey the request to cut operating hours.

Restaurants operated by the company were among 2,000 establishments that did not comply with a request to close by 8 p.m. under a COVID-19 state of emergency issued in January 2021 in the Tokyo area and other prefectures, according to the plaintiff's side.

Of the 2,000, the Tokyo metropolitan government ordered 27, of which 26 were Global-Dining outlets, to close by 8 p.m. until the emergency declaration was lifted.

In handing down the ruling, Presiding Judge Norihiro Matsuda said, "It is difficult to acknowledge that (Global-Dining) increased the risk of community spread of infections."

He also said the order had "only a slight effect on controlling infections" as it was issued only a few days before the state of emergency was lifted.

The court, however, denied a claim by the company alleging negligence by Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, dismissing their damages claim of 104 yen ($0.8). As part of its reasoning, the court said the metropolitan government had allowed disobedient companies to explain their positions.

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