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Japan "on the brink" as it struggles to hold back coronavirus

  • Kiyoshi Takenaka and Elaine Lies

    Reuters

Tokyo, Japan   /   Wed, April 1, 2020   /   04:12 pm
Japan A shop employee wearing a protective face mask, following an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), prepares antiseptic solution at Shibuya shopping and amusement district in Tokyo, Japan on Tuesday. (REUTERS/Issei Kato)

Japan is struggling to hold the line against the coronavirus and is on the brink of crisis with medical experts particularly worried about preparations in Tokyo, officials said on Wednesday, raising the prospect of emergency lockdowns.

Japan has some 2,200 cases of the coronavirus and 66 deaths, relatively small tallies compared with those of United States, China and some parts of Europe.

But the new infections are appearing relentlessly, with 105 reported on Wednesday, 65 of them in the capital, where cases are closely watched as increasing numbers there add to pressure on the government to take drastic steps.

"We are barely holding the line and remain at a critical point where virus cases could surge if we let down our guard," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a parliamentary committee.

He is set to hold a meeting of his coronavirus task force later on Wednesday.

Abe is under pressure from the public to declare a state of emergency that would allow authorities to impose lockdowns and restrict movements, but on a voluntary, not a legally binding, basis.

Economics Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said infectious disease experts were alarmed about medical preparations in Tokyo, which now has about 500 cases.

"Many experts expressed very strong sense of crisis and opinions over the spread of infections in Tokyo and the current state of medical preparedness," Nishimura told reporters.

"We must prevent infections from spreading further no matter what. We have come to the edge of edges, to the very brink.”

The governor of Tokyo, Yuriko Koike, has requested that residents of the city of nearly 14 million people stay indoors and avoid restaurants and bars.

"People are saying 'I didn't think I would get infected myself'. I want everyone to share the awareness that one should both protect oneself while also avoiding spreading [the virus]," she said.

A Bank of Japan poll showed the mood of industrial manufacturers at its most pessimistic for seven years.

Calls for a lockdown are increasing on social media, with many Twitter users expressing worry and citing much more drastic measures in foreign cities.

"One of my friends, who works in Tokyo, is still commuting on packed trains," wrote a user under the Twitter handle Arikan.

"I'm a little embarrassed by how indecisive Japan is compared to other nations."

Media reported the possibility schools would remain closed until May. The government first closed public schools at Abe's request from March 2. The Tokyo metropolitan government had said it was planning to re-open at least some schools when the new academic year began in April.