Asia Today: Japan crosses 100,000 cases, 9 months after 1st

Virus Outbreak Japan Tokyo Crowds

TOKYO (AP) — Japan’s coronavirus cases have topped 100,000, nine months after the first case was found in mid-January, the health ministry said Friday.

The country confirmed 808 new cases on Thursday, bringing the cumulative COVID-19 cases to 100,334, including 712 people who were on a cruise ship that was docked off a Japanese port earlier this year.

About one-third of the cases come from Tokyo, where 221 cases were confirmed Thursday, bringing the prefectural total to 30,677, including 453 deaths. Nationwide, Japan has more than 1,700 deaths.

Experts say Japan has so far managed to avoid “explosive” infections as in Europe and the U.S. without enforcing lockdowns, most likely thanks to the common use of face masks and disinfectant, as well as other common preventive measures including social distancing.

Japan had a nationwide state of emergency in April and May, and experienced a less serious second wave in August, but has since been seeing a slight uptrend in new cases in northern prefectures, setting off concerns of a surge in the winter.

Experts have urged extra caution at dining and drinking parties and workplaces. According to health ministry data, nearly half of the new patients were in their 20s and 30s.

Japan’s northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido this week raised its warning level after finding major clusters in urban entertainment districts.

Experts on Thursday also urged caution in Tokyo, where the daily count has fluctuated between the 100s and 200s.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— Customs agents in the southern Chinese city of Hong Kong have seized 100,000 counterfeit face masks and arrested one person. The masks were set to be shipped overseas and had a market value of almost $400,000, the government’s Information Services Department said Friday. The masks were seized at a storehouse in Hong Kong on Wednesday after agents received a tipoff, the department said, leading to a further raid on a trading company where a 71-year-old manager was arrested. “Initial investigations revealed that unscrupulous merchants intended to transship the batch of masks overseas for sale and profit. Customs is looking into the source of the face masks involved in the case. Samples have also been sent to a laboratory for safety testing,” the department said in a statement. Customs agents launched an operation across the city in late January involving spot checks on common protective items such as face masks, resulting in 80 arrests and the seizure of nearly 6 million masks, along with other items, the department said. Mainland China is a major source of personal protective equipment such as masks and body suits, some of which have been found to be counterfeit or of inferior quality.

— India reported 48,648 new coronavirus cases, continuing a monthlong slowing trend in infections even as the country adds to its 8 million cases. The Health Ministry also reported 563 more fatalities in the past 24 hours, raising the confirmed death toll to 121,090. Even as cases are dropping nationwide, New Delhi is facing what could be a third wave of infections. The capital is India's worst-hit city and is among the few regions in the country seeing further new infections, clocking more than 5,000 daily in the last three days. The surge comes while seasonal pollution levels are soaring in the capital, worsening respiratory illnesses.

— Sri Lankan authorities have asked state employees to resume working from home in major townships as coronavirus infections continue to surge. The president’s office says government offices in Western province, where the recent outbreaks have been concentrated, have been asked to switch to remote work as well. Sri Lanka had lifted work-from-home measures when community infections subsided. But clusters emerging from a garment factory earlier this month and later from the country’s main wholesale fish market have resulted in a surge in infections and subsequent restrictions. Authorities also announced Friday that they have closed a resort town known as “little England” in the country’s central hills to visitors. Nuwara Eliya, about 170 kilometers(105 miles) east of Colombo, is in a tea-growing mountain region and is a famous tourist destination. M.B.R. Pushpa Kumara, the top government official in Nuwara Eliya, said the virus is spreading rapidly in the area and all tourist attractions including botanical gardens, national parks and waterfalls have been closed. So far, 9,791 COVID-19 patients have been reported in the island nation, including 19 deaths.