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UPDATE 1-Kirin beer executive questions sweeping shutdown of Tokyo late-night bars

(Adds outlook from Asahi)

TOKYO, Jan 6 (Reuters) - The head of Kirin Holdings’ beer business on Wednesday questioned the across-the-board closure of late-night bars and restaurants around Tokyo, saying some establishments had already introduced stringent safety measures.

Japan is preparing to declare a new state of emergency, with 1,591 new COVID-19 cases in Tokyo on Wednesday, the highest daily total since the pandemic began.

Residents in Tokyo and surrounding areas are being asked to refrain from going out after 8 p.m. and bars and restaurants will be asked to close by that time, starting Friday.

“We don’t yet know the specifics of the new state of emergency ... but I do somewhat question taking a sweeping approach, when there are establishments which have taken very strict measures to prevent virus transmissions,” said Takayuki Fuse, head of Kirin Brewery Company.

Fuse said Kirin would accept any government decision, but added he was deeply concerned about the impact of a second lockdown on the industry and jobs.

“The restaurant and bar industry is estimated to be worth 26 trillion yen, supporting the jobs of over 4 million people,” he said during a presentation to investors outlining the brewer’s strategy for the year.

Kirin’s beer sales fell 18.6% in Japan last year as the pandemic discouraged eating out and gathering at bars. It said on Wednesday that it was targeting a 17.2% rebound in 2021.

Even before the pandemic, Japanese brewers had been struggling with falling beer sales for over a decade due to an ageing population and a shift to other drinks such as wine.

Rival Asahi Group Holdings, in a tight race with Kirin to be Japan’s No.1 beermaker, has been hit even harder due to its dependence on the bar and restaurant business.

Asahi, at a separate presentation on Wednesday, said sales of its flagship Super Dry beer fell 22% last year and may recover by less than 9% in 2021. It is expanding its focus to lower-alcohol beer this year, launching a 0.5% alcohol beer called Beery this March. (Reporting by Ritsuko Ando. Editing by Gerry Doyle and Mark Potter)

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