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Asia Today: More patients in Tokyo, less pay in New Zealand

BANGKOK (AP) — Coronavirus patients are being moved to more hospitals and even hotels in Tokyo as infections surged in the Japanese capital, where medical experts warn the health care system is on the brink of collapse.

Tokyo has about a quarter of Japan's total cases and many of the sick patients are hospitalized. Officials are under pressure to expand space for more patients, while transferring those with no or slight symptoms to hotels to make room for others in serious condition.

So far, 105 patients who are slightly ill have been moved into a hotel, and Tokyo plans to secure up to 3,500 single rooms by June.

Hospitals that normally are not equipped to treat infectious diseases are being asked to take in patients. Medical experts have warned that Tokyo’s health care system is on the brink of collapse amid the surge of patients and a shortage of protective gear for medical workers.

Japan's health ministry reported 457 new cases on Wednesday. The country has more than 8,800 cases and 231 deaths, including a cruise ship quarantined earlier this year.

Japan has the world's oldest population, which is a particular concern since the virus can be especially serious and fatal in the elderly. And there are concerns that Japan's government has done too little and acted too late to stave off high numbers of seriously ill patients.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expanded a state of emergency nationwide on Saturday, but it is voluntary and doesn't include compensation for workers who've lost earnings. Japanese companies also have been slow to adapt to remote work, meaning people still have continued to use public transit to commute to large offices in the densely populated capital region.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— VACCINE STUDY ADVANCES: Chinese scientists have started the second phase of a clinical trial of a COVID-19 vaccine in the hardest-hit city of Wuhan in central China’s Hubei Province. China’s Central Television reported 273 out of 500 volunteers have been injected with the vaccine candidate. The first phase of the vaccine clinical trial focused on its safety, while the second phase studies its efficacy. China reported 46 new virus cases on Wednesday, 36 of them from overseas. Eight of the domestic cases were in Heilongjiang province bordering Russia, where authorities have been rushing to stem a new outbreak among those traveling back to China.

— NEW ZEALAND PAY CUTS: New Zealand's top officials are taking a 20% pay cut for six months in acknowledgment of the community’s sacrifices in dealing with the coronavirus. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says it applies to government ministers, chief executives of government organizations, and also that opposition leader Simon Bridges had volunteered to join them. She said it wouldn’t apply to any front-line staff like doctors or nurses. Ardern’s salary of $286,000 is a comparatively high amount for a country with only 5 million people.

— SOUTH KOREA VOTES: Voters wore masks and moved slowly between lines of tape at polling stations after the government resisted calls to postpone South Korea's parliamentary elections, seen as a midterm referendum on President Moon Jae-in. Long lines and record-high participation in early voting seemed to defy expectations of low voter turnout in the middle of a social-distancing campaign to slow infections.

— US CUTS WHO FUNDS: President Donald Trump has directed a halt to U.S. payments to the World Health Organization pending a review of its warnings about the coronavirus and China. He said the world depends on WHO to make sure accurate information about health threats are shared in a timely manner. Trump claims the organization failed to carry out its “basic duty” and must be held accountable.

— MANDATORY MASKS: Singapore has made masks mandatory for everyone, following a sharp spike in new cases. Most people not wearing masks could be fined $212, while repeated offenders could face stiffer penalties. Infections in the tiny city-state have surged beyond 3,200 after two straight days of sharp increases. Many were among foreign workers living in crowded dormitories, and authorities are trying to test the workers more and reduce crowding.

— OPEN SCHOOLS MESSAGE: Australia’s prime minister is urging teachers to keep schools open for the sake of children’s education and the economy. Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s social media message comes as Victoria state schools resumed Wednesday after a term break and other states are considering their response. Morrison says that learning at home is not an option for some children, and that parents should not have to choose between holding down a job or caring for their families.

— SNEAKING OUT OF QUARANTINE: A man who repeatedly snuck out of a hotel to visit his girlfriend has become the first person in Australia to be jailed for breaching a coronavirus quarantine order. Jonathan David, 35, was sentenced Wednesday to six months and two weeks in prison but will likely only spend one month behind bars. He was also fined 2,000 Australian dollars ($1,280). David returned home to Perth from the Australian east coast on March 28 and was directed to spend the next two weeks in quarantine in a hotel, a standard requirement for interstate travelers. But he continually snuck out and used public transport to visit his girlfriend.

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