Tokyo faces further isolation measures to prevent an “explosion’ of coronavirus cases and there are calls in Hong Kong for a curfew to stop the health system collapsing amid fears of a second wave of infections in eastern Asia.
The governor of Tokyo has asked the city’s residents to stay at home this weekend “at all costs” to avoid an “explosion” of Covid-19 infections following a rise in the number of local cases.
Yuriko Koike described the situation as “severe”, but stopped short of calling for the kind of restrictions on movement now in place in other countries.
On Thursday, a government panel of experts said it feared that coronavirus infections were “rampant” in Japan, sparking speculation that the government would strengthen restrictions on movement and encourage social distancing.
Those concerns were echoed in Hong Kong, where a health expert said the territory’s public health system could collapse unless the government introduced measures to keep people apart, as global infections rose to more than 470,000 and deaths passed 21,000.
Ho Pak-leun, an infectious diseases expert at Hong Kong University, told local radio that unless Hong Kong brought in a curfew or lockdown-style restrictions, there would be “serious consequences”.
This is a critical moment in the fight against the diseaseCarrie Lam, Hong Kong leader
Hong Kong has largely been successful in preventing an epidemic, but in recent weeks has seen a surge in infections, primarily among returning travellers. Non-residents are banned from entering Hong Kong, and anyone else arriving must quarantine themselves for 14 days, but shops, restaurants and bars remain open.
“The government should not implement one-off measures bit by bit any more,” Ho said.
In other global developments:
• The US Senate passed a historic US$2tn stimulus package. The measure, which was unopposed, is the biggest of its kind in US history and came as the number of coronavirus-related deaths in the US passed 1,000.
• China reported no new locally transmitted cases for the second day in a row. Mainland China did however report an increase in new confirmed cases, to 67, all of which involved travellers arriving from abroad.
• The economic downturn and job losses caused by the pandemic is likely to be worse than the 2008 recession, according to World Trade Organization projections.
• Singapore is heading for a deep recession, data shows. Singapore has suffered its biggest economic slump for a decade, according to preliminary growth figures for the first three months of the year.
• Thailand barred entry into the kingdom late on Wednesday, enacting sweeping emergency powers in a bid to stem the local spread of the coronavirus outbreak.
• Mexico’s federal government is suspending all non-essential activities from Thursday, Mexico’s deputy health minister Hugo Lopez-Gatell said.
• US authorities are preparing to bring home tens of thousands of people more than they had expected. As many as 50,000 Americans may need their government’s help in getting home, the US State Department said.
• More than 400,000 people have volunteered to help the UK’s National Health Service. The prime minister, Boris Johnson, says the government had hoped 250,000 people would volunteer to help those in isolation by delivering medicines, transporting patients and making regular phone calls to check up on them.
• Italy’s infection rate slowed for the third consecutive day. The World Health Organization said the country could reach its peak number of coronavirus cases on Sunday.
In Hong Kong, executive council member Lam Ching-choi told public broadcaster RTHK the government was considering restricting the number of people that can get together at one time. Lam said it was considering banning gatherings at certain times of the day.
The chief executive, Carrie Lam, said in a statement on Wednesday night: “We believe that a large number of Hong Kong citizens will continue to come back [to] Hong Kong in the following weeks because of the worsening situation overseas and hence confirmed cases will inevitably continue to increase.
“The situation will be more severe and difficult to handle than any period in the past two months and may even lead to large-scale and continuous outbreak in the community. This is a critical moment in the fight against the disease and also a moment for testing the resilience of Hong Kong people in the face of the epidemic.”
Health officials in China said it had 67 new cases but none of them were locally transmitted. Hong Kong saw 24 new cases on Thursday, most of them recent arrivals.
Social media users in Japan posted photos of empty supermarket shelves after Koike’s announcement on Wednesday evening, while other stores appeared to be running very low only on items such as pasta, rice, instant noodles and toilet paper.
Tokyo – a city of 13 million people – reported 41 new Covid-19 cases on Wednesday, the largest daily number and more than double the number reported the previous day. With a total of 212 cases, Tokyo has overtaken the northern island of Hokkaido, previously the most affected of Japan’s 47 prefectures.
Koike also encouraged Tokyo residents to work at home on weekdays and avoid restaurants in the evening. Large-scale events should be cancelled through to 12 April, she added. “Starting this week, there are increasing concerns that we could see an explosion of infections,” Koike said, adding that she would consider more stringent measures if the rise in new cases could not be contained.
The coronavirus outbreak has infected 1,271 people across Japan, with 44 deaths linked to the virus, the public broadcaster NHK said. Those figures do not include 712 cases and 10 deaths aboard the Diamond Princess cruise liner, which was quarantined in Yokohama last month. The foreign ministry has urged people to avoid all non-essential overseas travel.