As lockdown pressure builds
Japan’s prime minister and his deputy won’t attend meetings together to cut coronavirus risks as pressure for a lockdown builds, with domestic cases topping 2,000 and a minister saying the country’s containment strategy was stretched to the limit.
Shinzo Abe told cabinet members on Tuesday that his second-in-command, Taro Aso, would no longer be present at any meeting the prime minister attends, a government spokesman said, in a move to guard leadership against infection that could hamper Japan’s efforts to contain the coronavirus outbreak.
Last week British PM Boris Johnson was obliged to switch to running the country from isolation after testing positive for the virus. Infections have now exceeded 770,000 cases worldwide, killing more than 37,000, with the United States, Italy and Spain overtaking mainland China, where the virus originated late in 2019, in confirmed cases.
Abe’s step came as Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said that Japan was not yet in a situation to declare a state of emergency, triggering a potential lockdown, but that the situation was precarious.
“We’re just barely holding it together,” Nishimura told reporters on Tuesday. “If we loosen our grip even a little, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a sudden surge (in cases).”
Speculation that a lockdown may come soon has been intense in the capital, fuelled by rising numbers of domestic cases.
A centre for disabled people in Chiba prefecture, east of Tokyo, found seven more infections on Tuesday, pushing the national total past 2,000. A total of 59 deaths have been recorded, according to the tally by national broadcaster NHK.
With limited testing for the virus taking place, doubts linger in the capital about how widespread it may be.
In a survey by popular chat app Line of users in Tokyo and neighbouring prefectures – conducted in partnership with the health ministry – some 7.1% of nearly 64,000 respondents reported they were suffering at least one symptom associated with coronavirus, including high fever or a bad cough, between March 27 and 30.
The presence of such symptoms does not prove infection. But at around 4,500, the number of people self-reporting symptoms in the survey was markedly higher than Tokyo’s official number of 443 confirmed cases as of Monday, stoking widespread comment among social media users.