Cases in Japan hit record amid holiday travel

TOKYO (AP) — The daily tally of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Japan hit a record for the fourth day at 2,508, its Health Ministry said yesterday.

Japan has had fewer than 2,000 coronavirus-related deaths so far, avoiding the toll of harder hit nations. But fears are growing about another surge. A flurry of criticism from opposition legislators and the public has slammed the government for being too slow in halting its “GoTo” tourism campaign, which encouraged travel and dining out with discounts.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Saturday scrapped the campaign, but only after many people had already made travel reservations for a three-day Thanksgiving weekend in Japan.

Airports and restaurants have been packed. Some said the government should have offered to pay for cancellations, or stepped up PCR testing instead, if the goal is to keep the economy going amid a pandemic. Tutorials are circulating online on the proper way to eat and drink at restaurants while wearing masks.

Meanwhile, India has registered 45,209 new confirmed cases in the past 24 hours amid a festival season surge in the country’s capital and many other parts. At least three Indian states — Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat — have imposed night curfews in many cities.

People make their way at a departure lobby of Haneda airport in Tokyo. PHOTO: AP

The Health Ministry yesterday also registered 501 deaths in the past 24 hours, taking total fatalities up to 133,227. While the overall pace of new cases appears to be slowing, experts have cautioned that official figures may be offering false hope since many infections are undetected.

South Australia and Victoria states eased COVID-19 restrictions yesterday as Australia heads into summer in a better position to fight the virus. Victoria, which was hardest hit, has gone 23 days without a new infection.

In response, Premier Daniel Andrews announced a number of changes to restrictions. Mask-wearing outdoors, which until now has been mandatory, is no longer required where social distancing is possible. Masks will still have to be worn indoors and carried at all times. Home gatherings of up to 15 people will be allowed and up to 50 people can gather outdoors. Up to 150 people will be allowed at weddings, funerals or religious services.

Residents of South Australia emerged from a state-wide lockdown at midnight on Saturday, and are now able to visit restaurants in groups of up to 10 and host gatherings up of to 50 people with social distancing. Gyms and beauty salons can open and students will return to schools today.

The border between Victoria and New South Wales states, closed at the height of the Victoria outbreak three months ago, will re-opened yesterday. New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said, “We never want to see this ever again. We hope this is the last time that in our lifetime this border is closed.”

Elsewhere, authorities are conducting mass testing and shutting down schools after China reported three new domestically transmitted cases in the past 24 hours — two in northern Inner Mongolia province and one in Shanghai.

The city of Manzhouli, in Inner Mongolia, started testing all its residents for COVID-19 yesterday, a day after the two cases were discovered. The city has suspended classes and shut public venues, telling residents to not gather for dinner banquets.

Local authorities in Shanghai found one more case on Saturday after testing 15,416 people following recent locally transmitted cases. The city is not shutting down its schools, but has locked down specific facilities such as a hospital. It is also testing all residents in the Pudong New Area district.

China is already conducting mass testing for up to three million residents in the northern city of Tianjin after five cases were found there earlier in the week. The total number of confirmed cases in China is 86,431.