Facing uptick in COVID-19 infections, Japan moves to limit public crowds

Facing uptick in COVID-19 infections, Japan moves to limit public crowds

People in protective masks, during the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, watch a naked festival at
People in protective masks watch a festival at Saidaiji Temple in Okayama, Feb 15, 2020. (Photo: Reuters/Kim Kyung-hoon)

TOKYO: Japan said on Monday (Feb 17) it would limit public crowds in Tokyo to prevent a further spread of the deadly coronavirus, scrapping the emperor's birthday celebrations and closing next month's Tokyo Marathon to all but elite professional runners.

The widening fallout of the outbreak, which began in China in December and has killed more than 1,700 people, is threatening large public events and damaging output and tourism in Japan.

A further spread of COVID-19 could undermine growth and potentially push the country into recession, analysts say.

READ: Japan confirms its first COVID-19 death: Health minister

Citing "circumstances", the Imperial Household Agency said it would cancel Emperor Naruhito's public birthday address on Feb 23, his first since his coronation last year. The event regularly attracts tens of thousands of people to the inner grounds of the Imperial Palace in the heart of Tokyo.

The last time the emperor's birthday celebration was cancelled was 1996, amid a hostage crisis at the Japanese embassy in Peru.

Organisers of the Tokyo Marathon, one of the world's biggest such races, say the 38,000 general participants who signed up for the Mar 1 race will not be allowed to compete, a person with knowledge of the issue told Reuters.

Instead, the event will be limited to top-level competitors. A total of 176 elite runners and 30 elite wheelchair athletes are registered for the race.

READ: Oscars, movies help pass the time on cruise ship quarantined in Japan

Shares of some of the marathon's sponsors fell. Seiko Holdings, the maker of watches and clocks, slid 3.5 per cent, as did shoe and sportswear maker ASICS. The broader Tokyo market was little changed.

The marathon is not the only international sporting event in Japan the virus has affected: The FIBA Asia Cup 2021 postponed a qualifying basketball game between Japan and China, originally scheduled to be held near Tokyo this week.


As the number of people infected in Japan has risen above 400, most of them passengers on a cruise ship docked in Yokohama, a hospital outside Tokyo said it would stop admitting new patients after one of its staff tested positive for the virus.

The hospital in Sagamihara, 50km west of Tokyo, said a nurse was infected after treating an inpatient who died of the disease this month.

READ: COVID-19: What you need to know about the Diamond Princess ship quarantined in Japan

On Monday morning, a fifth government-chartered flight carrying 65 Japanese arrived in Tokyo from Wuhan, China, the epicentre of the outbreak, bringing the total number repatriated from the city to 763, broadcaster NHK reported.

Hundreds of passengers are preparing to be evacuated from the quarantined cruise ship, and one member of the testing team from Japan's health ministry has tested positive for the disease, the ministry said.

READ: Cruise liners steer clear of mainland China, Hong Kong and Singapore over COVID-19 fears 

Companies are stepping up measures to prevent the spread of the virus as a growing number of cases have been reported in people who have neither visited China nor have had direct contact with people arriving from there.

Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp, one of Japan's biggest companies, said it was urging its roughly 200,000 group-wide employees to work from home or stagger their commutes.

On Friday, NTT Data Corp said a contract employee who worked at one of its buildings was confirmed infected. The company has ordered 14 workers who were in close contact with that person to work at home, it said.

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Source: Reuters/zl