Asia Today: Japan slowdown not enough, Beijing parks reopen

BANGKOK (AP) — Japan's social-distancing efforts are slowing infections but not enough to stave off further spread of the coronavirus, a government minister said Friday, adding that experts are recommending the state of emergency remain in place.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe earlier said he planned to extend the measure beyond its scheduled end of May 6, and local governors in hard-hit areas and medical experts have called for a monthlong extension.

“If we relax the measures with insufficient decrease, infections will immediately bounce back and our effort so far will entirely go to waste,” Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said after meeting with experts on a government-commissioned task force. “The experts recommended that the current measures should be kept in place.”

The state of emergency is voluntary and only requests social distancing and remote work rather than orders actions be taken. Health experts worry the lack of urgency in the message doesn't reflect the serious risks of the health system being overwhelmed by virus patients in the country with the world's oldest population.

Japan has confirmed 14,281 cases with 432 deaths, according to the health ministry.

Also Friday, Emperor Naruhito marked his first anniversary of his enthronement with a prayer at palace shrines for the people’s peace and happiness amid the pandemic. Wearing a white surgical mask, he greeted well-wishers on the sidewalk from a royal car on the way to the palace for the ritual.

Naruhito ascended to the throne last year after his father, Akihito, abdicated. Some of Naruhito's scheduled events, including a trip to Britain that was supposed to be his first overseas visit as the monarch, have been canceled due to the pandemic.

In other developments around the Asia-Pacific region:

— INDIAN CASES SURGE: India registered another daily high in virus cases, with nearly 2,000 recorded in the past 24 hours. India’s Health Ministry said the 1,993 new cases and 73 more deaths bring India's totals to 35,043 with 1,147 deaths. The government is due to decide the future of its 40-day lockdown on Sunday. It allowed migrant workers and other stranded people to resume their journeys on Wednesday, as well as some shops to reopen and manufacturing and farming to resume.

— MALAYSIA TO PARTLY REOPEN ECONOMY: Malaysia will allow most economic sectors and business activities to reopen from Monday. Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin says there is a need to revive the economy as billions have been lost during the partial lockdown that began in March. Most businesses, including restaurants, can open with social distancing and health screenings. Mass gatherings are still banned, keeping schools, cinemas and worship houses shut and not allowing group sports. Muhyiddin said Muslims also cannot return to their villages to celebrate when Ramadan ends, as inter-state travel will remain banned. Daily infections have dropped to double-digits in the past two weeks, with Malaysia now recording 6,002 infections with 102 deaths.

— FORBIDDEN CITY REOPENS: Beijing’s parks and museums including the ancient Forbidden City reopened to the public after being closed for months by the coronavirus pandemic. The Forbidden City, past home to China’s emperors, is allowing just 5,000 visitors daily, down from 80,000. And parks are allowing people to visit at 30% of the usual capacity. China on Friday reported 12 new cases of the virus, six of them brought from overseas, and no new deaths for the 16th day. It has reported a total of 4,633 deaths from the virus among about 83,000 cases.

— UN CHIEF PRAISES SOUTH KOREA: U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Thursday he hopes many countries will follow the “remarkable example” of South Korea, which he said has been “extremely successful” in addressing the coronavirus pandemic and is planning to tackle climate change in its recovery. As its cases have declined, he said, South Korea has presented plans for “a very ambitious green deal," including a ban on new coal-fired plants and a reduction of emissions from existing coal-fired plants.

— SKOREA'S CASES REMAIN LOW: South Korea reported nine fresh cases, raising its totals to 10,774 infections and 248 deaths, its Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday. Its domestic cases have slowed, and infections linked to overseas travel are dropping as well after border controls were strengthened. The slowing caseload has allowed the government to relax social distancing guidelines as it shifts focus to easing the shock on the economy.

— CHINA BOYCOTT THREAT WORRIES AUSTRALIAN BUSINESS: China’s warning of trade repercussions from Australia’s campaign for an independent inquiry into the beginnings of the coronavirus has rattled Australian business leaders. China has accused Australia of parroting the United States in its call for an inquiry independent of the World Health Organization to determine the origins of the virus and examine how the world responded. Chinese Ambassador Cheng Jingye warned in an Australian newspaper interview this week that pursuing an inquiry could spark a Chinese consumer boycott. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has defended Australia and urged other countries to demand transparency.

— NINTENDO PARK DELAYED: The company that owns Universal theme parks says the opening of a Nintendo-themed park in Japan will be pushed back a few months due to the coronavirus crisis. Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said construction on the Epic Universe theme park in Florida will be delayed in addition to the later opening of Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios Japan in Osaka.

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This story has been corrected to show that Beijing’s Forbidden City has reopened, not still closed.

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