Tokyo residents urged to ‘stay home’ with family

TOKYO (AP) — Tokyo is seeing a record surge in coronavirus cases as the governor of the Japanese capital implored people to stay home.

“The coronavirus knows no year end or New Year’s holidays,” Governor Yuriko Koike told reporters.

She asked people to skip countdown ceremonies, and expressed concern people were out shopping in crowded stores.

“Please spend a quiet New Year’s with your family and stay home,” she said, switching to English for “stay home”.

She said the latest figures for Tokyo showed 1,300 new infections. The previous biggest daily number of cases for the capital was 949 people reported last Saturday.

A vaccine rollout in Japan is expected months after the United States (US) and parts of Europe.

There has been no lockdown in Japan, just requests for social distancing and mask wearing, as the government juggles encouraging business activity with containing health risks.

Japan has had more than 230,000 cases of COVID-19 and more than 3,000 deaths. Sixty-five of the deaths came on Wednesday, the Health Ministry said yesterday.

Government-backed discounts for travel have been discontinued after infections started climbing.

Meanwhile, South Korea has enforced its toughest physical distancing rules at correctional facilities after a cluster of coronavirus infections flared at a Seoul prison.

The Justice Ministry said 918 people — 897 inmates and 21 staff — at Seoul’s Dongbu Detention Center have tested positive for the virus since one of the centre’s officials was found infected on November 27. One of the infected inmates has died.

South Korea is struggling to contain a viral resurgence tied to a variety of sources.

Earlier yesterday, South Korea reported 967 new virus cases, taking the country’s total to 60,740 with 900 deaths.

The new curbs will ban visitors for inmates, while trials and summoning of inmates will be minimised. In-prison educational classes will be halted, planned paroles of some inmates will be implemented early and prison staff are prohibited from engaging in outside activities.

Elsewhere, Chinese health regulators have approved a coronavirus vaccine developed by state-owned Sinopharm as the first one for general use in China. The go-ahead comes as the country carries out a campaign to vaccinate 50 million people before celebrating the Lunar New Year in February.

The company earlier said preliminary data had shown the vaccine to be 79.3 per cent effective. The approval is conditional for now, meaning research is still ongoing and the regulators may seek more data or restrict the vaccine for certain groups.