US sounds coronavirus alarm in Japan, Tokyo requests state of emergency

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TOKYO (Reuters) – The US government sounded the alarm on Friday about the increase in coronavirus cases in Japan, adding to a chorus of prominent national voices – including the Governor of Tokyo – who have called for decisive action to avoid an explosive epidemic.

A man in a protective mask, following an epidemic of coronavirus (COVID-19), walks through the Ginza shopping and entertainment district in Tokyo, Japan, April 2, 2020. REUTERS / Issei Kato

Amid the growing demand for tighter restrictions on population movements to stem a growing wave of infections, the government has so far been reluctant to pull the trigger, warning of the considerable damage that could result in the world’s third largest economy. , already close to recession.

Instead, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for school closings and called on citizens to avoid unnecessary and non-emergency rallies and outings while preparing to put in place an economic stimulus package next week – even if he admitted that the country barely avoided a significant jump in infections.

But the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo’s warning to U.S. citizens on Friday highlighted Japan’s lack of widespread testing so far and gave a moderate assessment of the potential pressure on the healthcare system during ‘a generalized epidemic.

“The Japanese government’s decision not to conduct general tests makes it difficult to accurately assess the prevalence of COVID-19,” the embassy said on its website, referring to the disease caused by the virus.

“Although we have confidence in the Japanese health care system today, we believe that a significant increase in the number of COVID-19 cases will make it difficult to predict how the system will function in the coming weeks. “

If US citizens wanted to return to the United States from Japan, they should do so now, or risk staying abroad for “an indefinite period,” the report said.

Japan has so far been spared the type of explosive explosion seen in parts of Europe, the United States and elsewhere, with around 3,000 cases and 73 deaths to date. Worldwide, coronavirus cases exceeded one million on Thursday, while deaths exceeded 50,000.

“STRONG MESSAGE”

The embassy’s comments came after Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said the declaration of a national coronavirus emergency would send a “strong message” that could help avert a larger epidemic, his most explicit boost so far to government.

This would give governors the legal authority to ask people to stay at home and businesses to close, but not to impose the type of foreclosure seen in other countries. In most cases, there are no penalties for ignoring requests, although public compliance would likely increase with a declaration of emergency.

Nobuhiko Okabe, director general of the Kawasaki City Institute of Public Health, said the timing of declaring a state of emergency was difficult.

If delivered too early, it would have a significant economic impact and have a serious effect on society, but if it were too late, the number of infected patients would increase, he said.

Tokyo has reported the highest number of infections in the country with nearly 800 infections – a tiny number compared to a central population of nearly 14 million.

But experts are concerned about the increase in the percentage of cases that cannot be traced. At the end of March, the Ministry of Health had 26 clusters of infections in the country.

‘CONTAINMENT’

Asked what additional measures would be taken in the capital if the central government declared a state of emergency, Governor Koike said that a Tokyo-style “lockout” would involve asking people not to organize events and the same types of advocacy she was already doing to residents. .

These include working from home as much as possible and avoiding going out to bars and nightclubs – advice that many have not yet followed, though the Starbucks coffee chain and clothing retailer Uniqlo joined a series of other companies to say that they would be closing dozens of stores this weekend.

The government on Friday asked the hardest hit areas to keep hospital beds for critically ill patients, while keeping others with milder or symptomless symptoms at home or in the hotel. Japan has so far hospitalized all patients with coronavirus, whether they are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms.

But beds are filling up in Tokyo and threatening elsewhere, experts said this week.

Koike said Tokyo, for its part, would send people with mild or non-existent symptoms – the majority of the 628 hospitalized for coronavirus Thursday – to their homes or hotels.

The capital was working with the government to find housing, she said, while Prime Minister Abe said the use of facilities for the Summer Olympics – now postponed for a year – was under study.

Reports by Chang-Ran Kim, Linda Sieg, Kiyoshi Takenaka, Chris Gallagher and David Dolan; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell and Toby Chopra

Our standards:Principles of the Thomson Reuters Trust.

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