The Latest: Japan stresses importance of social distancing

The Latest on the coronavirus pandemic. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.


—Trump halts US payments to World Health Organization.

—Japan stresses importance of social distancing.

—India easing lockdown restrictions, starting April 20.


TOKYO —Japan may see some 850,000 COVID-19 patients in serious conditions and about half of them dying if no social distancing or other measures are taken, experts on a government-commissioned response team said in an estimate released Wednesday.

Hokkaido University professor Hiroshi Nishiura, an expert on cluster analysis, projected a 49% fatality rate, or about 420,000 deaths, among those who develop serious conditions requiring respiratory care or treatment in intensive care units, due to an imminent shortage of ventilators if no preventive measures are taken, according to a report provided by the health ministry.

“If we are unprepared and hit by the pandemic, we will run out of respirators,” Nishitani told reporters. The projection is a worst case scenario, he said, and urged people to cooperate in the social distancing effort. “We can stop the transmission if all of us change our activity and significantly reduce interactions.”

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared a state of emergency in Tokyo and six other prefectures on April 7, asking people to keep social distancing as much as 80%, but many people are still seen commuting as tele-working is slow to come. Nishiura expressed concerns and said it would take much longer to slow the infections at lower levels of social distancing.

An estimated 652,000 elderly people, age 65 or older, will be in serious condition under a hypothesis of one patient infecting 2.5 others and without preventive measures, Nishiura said. The remaining estimated 201,000 people are ages from 15 to 64.


NEW DELHI — India has announced some easing of lockdown restrictions, beginning April 20, to restart manufacturing and farming activity in rural areas to ease the suffering of millions of poor people.

India’s Home ministry issued guidelines on Wednesday that will also permit construction of roads and buildings in the rural areas. The inter-state transport of goods, essential and non-essential, will be allowed.

The announcement came a day after India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced extension to the country’s three-week lockdown until May 3 to fight the coronavirus epidemic which has, so far, claimed 377, with more than 10,000 positive cases. The lockdown has restricted people to their homes for all but essential trips to places like markets or pharmacies.

Tens of thousands of migrant workers surviving on daily wages have been protesting the government lockdown. More than 60% of India’s 1.3 billion people live in villages and are largely dependent on farming.

The new guidelines said that coal, mineral and oil production will also be allowed and manufacture of information technology hardware and of essential goods and packaging can resume.


PERTH, Australia — A man who repeatedly sneaked out of a hotel to visit his girlfriend has become the first person in Australia to be jailed for breaching a coronavirus quarantine order.

Jonathan David, 35, was sentenced in the Perth Magistrates Court on Wednesday to six months and two weeks in prison, but will likely only spend one month behind bars. He was also fined 2,000 Australian dollars ($1,280).

David returned home to Perth from the Australian east coast on March 28 and was directed to spend the next two weeks in quarantine in a hotel, a standard requirement for interstate travelers.

But he continually sneaked out and used public transport to visit his girlfriend. He wedged open a fire exit door so that he could come and go without hotel staff seeing him.

But he was caught out by security cameras and was taken into custody on April 5. He pleaded guilty to failing to comply with a direction.

Magistrate Elaine Campione told David he “chose to roll the dice with other people’s lives and that was breathtakingly arrogant,” during a state of emergency.

After David spends a month in prison, the balance of his sentence will be suspended for 12 months unless he commit another that time.


BEIJING — China reported 46 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, 36 from overseas.

Of the 10 domestic cases, eight were in the province of Heilongjiang that borders on Russia, where authorities have been rushing to stem a new outbreak among those traveling back to China.

Almost 1,100 people were also under quarantine and monitoring as suspected cases or for having tested positive for the virus without showing symptoms.

China now has recorded a total of 3,342 deaths among 82,295 cases.


TOKYO — Japan had 457 new cases of the coronavirus, bringing a national total to 8,100 as of Tuesday, as well as 712 others from a cruise ship quarantined near Tokyo earlier this year.

All combined, Japan has a total of 8,812 cases, with 231 deaths, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare said Wednesday.

Tokyo, by far, has the biggest number of cases at 2,319, most of them still hospitalized. Officials are under pressure to expand space for more patients, while transferring those with no or slight symptoms to hotels to make room for others in serious conditions.

So far, 105 slightly sick patients moved into a hotel, and Tokyo plans to secure up to 3,500 single rooms by June.

Lack of space and equipment at ordinary hospitals that previously have not been equipped with infectious diseases treatment are being asked to take in patients.

Medical experts have warned that Tokyo’s healthcare system is on the brink of collapse amid surge of patients and shortage of protective gear.


WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says she and some other top officials are taking a 20% pay cut for six months in acknowledgment of the community’s sacrifices in dealing with the coronavirus.

Ardern said Wednesday the pay cut is symbolic and won’t much affect the country’s overall financial position. She said it applies to government ministers, chief executives of government organizations, and also that Opposition Leader Simon Bridges had volunteered to join them in taking the cut.

She said it wouldn’t apply to any frontline staff like doctors or nurses.

Ardern’s salary is 471,000 New Zealand dollars ($286,000), a comparatively high amount for a country with a population of only 5 million people.


SEOUL, South Korea — Wearing masks and moving slowly between lines taped on the ground, millions of South Koreans flocked to polling stations on Wednesday to elect lawmakers amid the shadows of a spreading coronavirus.

The national parliamentary elections on Wednesday have been billed as a midterm referendum for liberal President Moon Jae-in, who enters the final years of his term grappling with a historic public health crisis that has sickened more than 10,500 people while unleashing massive economic shock.

The long lines that snaked around public offices and schools across the country, which followed record-high participation in early voting held on Friday and Saturday, seemed to defy expectations of a low voter turnout.

Experts had earlier predicted a voter turnout of around 50% or even smaller as the country is in the middle of an active campaign to minimize social contact to slow infections, including shutting schools, banning rallies and restricting church gatherings on weekends.

Voters were asked to wear face masks and stand at least a meter (3 feet) apart while waiting in lines, a distance marked by duct tape or stickers.

Poll workers, also masked, checked temperatures at the gates and whisked voters exhibiting fever or arriving without masks to separate areas to vote.

All voters were asked to wash their hands with sanitizing gel and handed disposable plastic gloves before entering booths to cast their ballots.

The government also prepared a voting process for thousands of citizens under self-quarantine, who will be escorted by public servants or monitored through tacking apps on their phones so that officials could alert police if they wander around or don’t return home in time.


WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump says he is halting U.S. payments to the World Health Organization pending a review of its warnings about the coronavirus and China.

Trump says the outbreak could have been contained at its source and spared lives had the U.N. health agency done a better job investigating reports coming out of China.

The president says the world depends on the World Health Organization to work with countries to make sure accurate information about health threats are shared in a timely manner.

Trump claims the organization failed to carry out its “basic duty” and must be held accountable.

But Trump says the U.S. will continue to engage with the organization in pursuit of what he calls meaningful reforms.


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