Japan pushes reopening as new coronavirus cases reach record in Tokyo

People walk along a shopping street in Tokyo, on July 3, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

TOKYO (BLOOMBERG) - Japan is forging ahead with further steps to reopen the economy even as daily coronavirus cases continue to climb, with Tokyo reporting a daily record of 243 infections on Friday (July 10).

In the latest easing of guidelines, the country will begin allowing events of up to 5,000 people, including sporting events and musical concerts.

Businesses have almost fully reopened since the state of emergency ended in late May.

Japan is also moving toward discussions with some countries on gradually lifting strict travel bans that remain in place, according to local media reports.

Japan joins a list of countries around the globe which are seeking to reopen their battered economies after an initial success with virus prevention efforts, only to wrestle with new clusters of infections.

Tokyo confirmed a daily record of 243 cases on Friday, Governor Yuriko Koike told reporters. The new number surpasses the daily record of 224 cases on Thursday and is higher than any daily reported cases during the state of emergency.

Infections in the capital have surged from only a handful several weeks ago, with daily cases recently topping 100 for six days in a row.

Similar flare-ups are observed elsewhere in cities such as Hong Kong and Melbourne.

Rather than resort to full-blown lockdowns, many are seeking targeted approaches allowing their economies to continue recovering.

Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister-in-charge of Japan's coronavirus response, said on Friday morning that the country must continuously balance containing the virus and economic well-being.

"Protecting lives are the most important. On the other hand to make a living, expanding economic activity is also a must. We need to do both, it's not a choice of one or the other."

Despite the recent outbreak, officials have repeatedly emphasised there will be no changes to Japan's reopening plans.

If weather allows, Japan's national baseball league will open six games to spectators on Friday evening, though none will be played in Tokyo.

Soccer games with attendees are also planned to start on Friday.

But the famed coordinated cheering seen at Japan's baseball games won't be allowed, according to guidelines put out by Nippon Professional Baseball. The organisation has asked spectators to clap instead of loud cheering and use electronic whistles and avoid megaphones.

Attendees will also be asked to wear masks, hold onto ticket stubs to remember where they sat, and avoid unnecessary movements within the stadiums during the games.

Government officials have reasoned that there is no need to introduce new restrictions as the surge in coronavirus cases is tied to increased testing, mainly around nightclubs that have become a source of recent infections, and most infection routes are traceable.

Some nightclubs have been asked to close in Tokyo with support money offered.

A majority of the new cases have been younger patients in their 20s and 30s, who usually experience lighter symptoms and do not require hospitalisation.

The medical system is also not under any strain, though officials have said they are aiming to strengthen preparedness.

Officials are advising resident to be careful, and avoid crowded conditions and spaces that are not well ventilated.

Despite the spike in cases in the country's capital city, Mr Nishimura said the virus was also not spreading nationally, saying that about 20 out of the country's 47 prefectures and areas had not reported any new cases in the last week.

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