Tokyo coronavirus cases rise by daily record, residents urged to stay home

Pedestrians wearing masks walk in Ginza shopping district in Tokyo, Japan, on March 27, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Tokyo has confirmed more than 50 new coronavirus infections, a record daily increase, public broadcaster NHK reported on Saturday (March 28) as the governor of Japan's capital urged citizens to stay indoors.

Governor Yuriko Koike's plea followed a surge in coronavirus infections this week that she said put Tokyo on the brink of an emergency. She has asked the tens of millions of people in the city and surrounding regions to avoid non-essential, non-urgent outings until April 12, and particularly this weekend.

Infections in Japan have climbed to more than 1,400, with 47 deaths, excluding those from a cruise ship quarantined last month. Hit early by the coronavirus in its initial spread from China, Japan had seen a more gradual rise than the recent surge in much of Europe and the United States.

This week, however, saw an acceleration that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called "a national crisis". People in the Osaka area in western Japan have also been asked to stay at home.

Infections on Friday rose by a daily record 102, according to public broadcaster NHK. Cases in Tokyo now total more than 300, according to data from NHK.

Health officials in the Tokyo metropolitan government did not answer telephone calls from Reuters seeking confirmation of the latest numbers.

While the current level of infection appears low for a city of nearly 14 million, with many millions more living in surrounding suburbs, experts warn there is a high risk that the number of cases could spiral as authorities have been unable to track all the contacts of more than half of the latest cases.

The government has deployed the military to greater Tokyo's Narita and Haneda airports to assist in virus screenings and the transport of people placed in quarantine, NHK said.

The voluntary calls by Ms Koike and other Japanese leaders for people to stay at home compares with the more rigorous lockdowns in major cities in Italy, Britain, France, Spain, and the United States - the new global epicentre of the virus.

Globally, infections have topped half a million with more than 20,000 deaths, with the contagion affecting more than 100 countries.

Mr Abe, who has not declared a national state of emergency, is expected to order economic steps including US$135 billion (S$192.8 billion) or more in spending, government officials and lawmakers say, joining policymakers globally trying to blunt a downturn.

In a quiet neighbourhood close to the prime minister's private residence in central Tokyo, the scene was typical of a Saturday morning. Some people were jogging and walking their dogs. A few stopped to pray at a local shrine. Traffic was brisk on local roads.

"I'm a little worried, but I have an appointment today, which is why I'm outside," said a 41-year old man walking down the street, who declined to be named.

"It's not something that I can't cancel, but I do have to meet someone. I will be riding the train later."

Trains were not empty but were far less crowded than on a normal weekend. Some department stores, movie theatres, museums and parks closed, but many supermarkets and convenience stores were open as usual.

In Setagaya, a popular residential area in western Tokyo, many restaurants and shops were shut, although those that were open were doing brisk business, including an Italian restaurant that was filled with some young families and older couples.

Nearby, labourers worked on a construction site as if it were a normal day.

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