Asia Today: Abe urges Japanese to social distance more

By Associated Press 21 April 2020, 12:00AM

BANGKOK (AP) — Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed concern Tuesday that people haven’t been social distancing as much as they are supposed to under the state of emergency he declared two weeks ago to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

Abe previously requested people reduce social interactions as much as 80% to slow infections to manageable levels, but surveys show people are moving around too much, especially at train stations and in downtown areas where restaurants and grocery stores are still operating.

Abe said Tuesday that hospitals are overburdened already and that infections must be slowed.

“I seek further cooperation from all of you," he said.

Abe noted that many people in urban areas made out of town trips over the weekend, risking spreading the virus and putting elderly people at risk.

Abe has been criticized as being too slow and lax in his handling of the virus.

Last week he expanded his state of emergency, which was initially limited to Tokyo and six urban areas, to all of Japan to prevent people from moving out of town as the nation approaches its extended “golden week” holidays later this month.

His government was also seen reluctant to issue requests for non-essential business closures due to fears over the economic impact. Only Tokyo and several other prefectures have made business closure requests, which carry no penalties.

The number of cases in Japan has topped 11,000, while Tokyo is still reporting more than 100 cases daily.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

—WHO ISSUES WARNING: The World Health Organization has warned that the lifting of lockdowns and other measures needs to be done gradually or else there will likely be a resurgence of virus cases. The WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, Dr. Takeshi Kasai, said “we need to ready ourselves for a new way of living for the foreseeable future.” He said governments must remain vigilant to stop the spread of the virus and the lifting of lockdowns and other social distancing measures must strike the right balance between keeping people healthy and allowing economies to function.

— INDONESIA: Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo has banned people in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation from returning to their hometowns to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the dawn-to-sunset fasting during Ramadan. The announcement came amid warnings from health experts that Indonesia could face an explosion of coronavirus cases that could infect more than a million people after Ramadan unless the government takes stricter measures.

— MORRISON BACKS INVESTIGATION: Australia’s prime minister has backed his foreign minister’s call for an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus. China’s Foreign Ministry has already rejected the call for an independent review into the origins of the virus including China’s handling of the initial outbreak. But Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Tuesday that his minister's proposal had his “very, very strong support.”

— AUSTRALIA SURGERIES TO RESUME: Australia will allow the resumption of non-urgent surgeries from next week as health authorities grow more confident that hospitals won’t be overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients. State and federal leaders agreed that elective surgeries and medical procedures including in vitro fertilization would restart gradually for the first time since March 27.

— HONG KONG EXTENDS CLOSURES: Hong Kong announced a two-week extension of measures aimed at controlling the spread of the new coronavirus, including banning public gatherings of more than four people as well as keeping entertainment venues closed. The extension will see businesses such as bars, pubs, beauty salons and karaoke bars remain closed until at least May 7. Restaurants, which have been allowed to operate, can only to do so at half their capacity with tables spaced approximately 1.5 meters (5 feet) apart. The measures had been due to expire April 23.

— SOUTH KOREA CASES FALL: South Korea has reported nine new coronavirus infections and one more death, bringing its totals to 10,683 cases and 237 deaths. South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said at least 1,011 cases were linked to recent arrivals from overseas. The country’s caseload has slowed from early March when it was reporting around 500 fresh cases a day. Infections continued to wane in the hardest-hit city of Daegu, which reported two new cases. While calling for vigilance to maintain hard-won gains against the virus, officials have relaxed social distancing guidelines, such as lifting administrative orders advising churches, gyms and bars to close.

— CHINA HAS NO NEW DEATHS: China reported another 11 cases, including six in the province of Heilongjiang that borders Russia. No new deaths were reported, with the total remaining at 4,632 among 82,758 infections. Despite the dramatic fall in cases, China has maintained strict social distancing rules, including a ban on foreign travelers.

— DOCKED CRUISE SHIP HAS INFECTION: A crew member on the Italian-operated cruise ship Costa Atlantica, docked in Nagasaki in southern Japan, has tested positive for the virus after developing cough and fever. The ship has been docked in Nagasaki since late January for repairs and maintenance and there are no passengers aboard. The infected crew member, who is of unidentified nationality, is among 623 crew members of the ship. Three others also tested Monday were not infected, officials said. Crew members have not left the ship since mid-March.

By Associated Press 21 April 2020, 12:00AM

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