A lawmaker with Shinzo Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party drew gasps of disapproval from opposition party members for suggesting the prime minister should catch the flu to skip the Opening Ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

Upper House member Takashi Uto said at the Jan. 31 session of the chamber’s Budget Committee, where Abe was present, “I get the feeling after watching the prime minister that your real intention is that you do not want to go.

“The prime minister can catch the flu (to be absent from the event) as the flu epidemic has been gripping Japan.”

Uto went on to say: “Since the prime minister is traveling to a danger zone of sorts, I am hoping that you will return to Japan safely while expending all possible measures to ensure a safe trip, including your personal protection.”

Abe did not respond to the remarks, as Uto did not ask him a question.

But opposition Diet members expressed their disgust at the legislator’s remarks after the session.

“I was appalled by a member of the ruling party stooping to the level of openly suggesting playing hooky in public,” said Kenta Izumi, chief of the Diet Affairs Committee of the opposition party Kibo no To (Hope), to reporters.

Kohei Otsuka, who heads the Democratic Party, took exception to Uto’s comment as well at a gathering of party members, saying it shows the LDP is “extremely complacent.”

Uto’s remarks came after a group of LDP members voiced opposition on Jan. 25 to Abe’s attendance at the Feb. 9 Opening Ceremony.

They said the prime minister’s gesture will send the wrong message to South Korea over the 2015 bilateral agreement on the issue of comfort women at a time Tokyo is angry with President Moon Jae-in expressing dissatisfaction with the accord earlier last month.

Abe announced his attendance on Jan. 24 after signaling reluctance for a long time.

(This article was written by Yuka Takeshita and Taro Nakazaki.)