A coastal town in Japan is facing criticism after it spent emergency funds intended for coronavirus measures on a giant statue of a squid to promote the local tourism industry.
Noto, located in Ishikawa prefecture on the Japan Sea coast, spent ¥25m (£164,000) on the 13-metre-long marine creature, according to the Chunichi Shimbun.
The local newspaper quoted officials as saying that the flying squid was part of a tourism drive to help the area’s virus-hit economy. The pink-and-white creature features flared tentacles and an opening below its beak where people can pose for photographs.
Japan’s regions have seen tourist numbers plummet since a controversial government-funded travel scheme was suspended at the end of last year over concerns that it was helping spread Covid-19 infections.
Noto, where squid is a delicacy, reportedly received ¥800m in grants from the national government to help see it through the pandemic, according to the Fuji News Network.
While town officials were not required to allocate the relief money directly to coronavirus measures, they have drawn criticism for spending such a large sum on the cephalopod attraction.
A local woman in her 60s told the Chunichi she could see how the statue could boost tourism in the long run, but thought the money would have been better spent on medical workers and nursing care services that are in desperate need of support.
Japan’s tourism industry is unlikely to recover soon. Last month the prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, declared a state of emergency in Tokyo, Osaka and two other virus hotpots in a last-ditch attempt to check a surge in infections.
Japan’s government is considering extending the state of emergency for Tokyo, Osaka, Hyogo and Kyoto prefectures, the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper said on Wednesday.
The measures, which include requests for restaurants and large shops to close, are scheduled to end on 11 May, just over 70 days before the summer Olympics are due to open in Tokyo.
Hirofumi Yoshimura, the governor of Osaka prefecture, where hospital capacity for seriously ill patients exceeds 99%, has indicated he will ask the central government to extend the emergency measures as infections are not decreasing as quickly as hoped.
The country’s vaccine rollout has barely begun, with less than 2% of the population inoculated, while hospitals are struggling to cope with record numbers of patients with severe Covid-19 symptoms.
Japan reported more than 4,100 new cases on Tuesday, bringing its total to more than 614,000, with 10,500 deaths.