Japan keeps high coronavirus alert as nationals return from China

A visitor wearing a mask in the transit area at Changi Airport Terminal 3 on Feb 14, 2020. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Japan evacuated more of its nationals from the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak on Monday (Feb 17), while concerns about the spreading disease raised the possibility that organisers may cut the number of participants at next month's Tokyo Marathon.

A fifth government-chartered flight carrying 65 Japanese nationals arrived in Tokyo from Wuhan, China, early on Monday, bringing the total number of Japanese repatriated from the city to 763, broadcaster NHK reported.

With more than 400 people infected, the majority passengers on a cruise ship docked off the country, Japan is the country most affected by the epidemic after China, where the outbreak was first detected in December and which has now killed more than 1,700 people.

The widening fallout is damaging output and tourism in Japan, undermining growth and potentially pushing the country into recession, analysts say.

Hundreds of passengers were preparing to be evacuated from a cruise ship after spending two weeks under quarantine off Japan over the coronavirus, with Americans flying home on chartered evacuation planes early Monday morning.

Canada, South Korea, Hong Kong and Italy have followed the United States in announcing flights to bring home their residents from the ship, which has been under quarantine since Feb 3.

The risk that cases in Japan may increase is threatening to limit one of the world's biggest marathons to be held on March 1.

Organisers of the Tokyo Marathon are considering restricting the number of general participants in this year's race as a precaution against the further spread of infection, the Asahi newspaper reported, citing unnamed sources.

Marathon organisers were not immediately available for comment.

Trimming down the size of the marathon, one of the six major city races which has more than 300,000 entrants this year, would be the latest move to curb an international sporting event in Japan due to the virus.

The Fiba Asia Cup 2021 has postponed a qualifying basketball match between Japan and China, which was initially scheduled to be held in Chiba, near Tokyo, later this week.

Companies are stepping up measures to prevent the spread of the virus as the number of infections in the country ticks up daily. A growing number of cases have been reported in people who have neither visited China nor have had direct contact with people arriving from the country.

Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp, one of Japan's biggest companies, said it was urging its roughly 200,000 group-wide employees to work from home or stagger their commutes.

Last Friday, NTT Data Corp said an external employee who works at one of its buildings was confirmed to have the coronavirus. The company had ordered 14 workers who had come into close contact with this person to work at home, it said.

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