Asia Today: Tokyo's daily infections top 600 for first time

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A government health worker sprays sanitiser on a street shut down to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in Dharmsala, India, Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020. (AP Photo/Ashwini Bhatia)

TOKYO – The number of new coronavirus infections in Japan’s capital topped 600 in a day for the first time Thursday, while experts warned of the increased burden on hospitals.

Tokyo reported 602 new cases, while the daily tally for the entire nation was 2,810. Japan has reported 168,573 infections since the pandemic began, including 2,465 deaths.

The surge in infections has placed an added burden on Tokyo's hospitals, making it harder for many to treat ordinary patients, said Masataka Inokuchi, who is on the city's virus task force.

“They are not paralyzed yet, but the situation is getting very tight,” he said.

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike urged residents to avoid non-essential outings, especially senior citizens and their families. Tokyo has issued a request for drinking places to close early until Dec. 17.

In other developments in the region:

— Sri Lanka’s minority Muslim community has started a campaign against compulsory cremation of people who die from COVID-19 by refusing to claim the bodies of their relatives, a lawmaker said Thursday. Rauff Hakeem, an opposition legislator representing the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, said there are 20 unclaimed bodies lying in morgues because of anger among Muslims over the policy. The government announced the mandatory cremation policy in March, saying that high temperature is the only way to completely destroy the coronavirus. Muslims have repeatedly asked to be allowed to bury bodies, citing religious requirements. The Supreme Court earlier this month rejected a petition against compulsory cremation. Sri Lanka is a predominantly Buddhist nation in which most people, including the second largest religious group, Hindus, burn their dead. Muslims make up about 7% of the country’s 22 million people. Sri Lanka has reported 30,075 coronavirus cases, including 144 deaths.

— Singapore’s health ministry says a Royal Caribbean cruise passenger who sparked a health scare after testing positive for COVID-19 on the vessel didn’t have the illness after all. The Quantum of the Seas cut short its “cruise-to-nowhere” and returned to Singapore on Wednesday after the 83-year-old passenger was diagnosed with the virus when he complained of diarrhea. The health ministry later the same day retested the man’s original sample as well as a new sample and found them negative. It said Thursday a third and final test was also negative, confirming the man was incorrectly diagnosed. The ministry said it has rescinded quarantine orders for his close contacts, and will review the testing processes onboard the ship. The ship’s 1,680 passengers and 1,148 crew underwent mandatory testing before being allowed to disembark late Wednesday. Royal Caribbean welcomed the news and said it would work with the government to refine its protocols. It had canceled a four-night cruise that was scheduled to depart Thursday. Singapore’s Tourism Board said its cruise to nowhere program, in which ships make roundtrips without any port of call, will proceed as planned following the swift response to the suspected case.

— India is reporting 31,521 newly coronavirus infections in the past 24 hours, dropping to just over a third of the peak seen in mid-September. Single-day cases have remained below 50,000 for more than a month. The Health Ministry also reported 412 deaths on Thursday, raising India’s total fatalities to 141,772. The ministry said some coronavirus vaccines are likely to receive licenses in the next few weeks. It has outlined an initial plan to immunize 300 million people.

— South Korea has reported 682 new cases of the coronavirus, as officials work to expand testing to slow infections. The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said Thursday that more than 500 of the new cases came from the Seoul metropolitan area, which has emerged as the center of a viral resurgence critics have blamed on decreased social distancing. Infections were also reported in major cities throughout the nation, including Busan, Ulsan and Daegu, which was the epicenter of the country’s previous outbreak in the spring.


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