Abe Urges More Social Distancing

Abe Urges More Social Distancing

BANGKOK (AP) -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said people haven't practiced social distancing as much as they should under the state of emergency he declared two weeks ago to fight the coronavirus.

Abe has asked people reduce social interactions by as much as 80% to slow infections to manageable levels, but surveys show people are moving around too much, especially at train stations and in downtown areas where restaurants and grocery stores are still operating.

Abe said Tuesday that hospitals are already overburdened and that infections must be slowed.

"I seek further cooperation from all of you," he said.

Abe has been criticized as being too slow and lax in his handling of the virus.

Last week he expanded his state of emergency, which was initially limited to Tokyo and six other urban areas, to all of Japan to prevent people from traveling out of town ahead of "golden week" holidays later this month.

His government is seen as reluctant to request non-essential business closures due to fears of the economic impact. Only Tokyo and several other prefectures have made business closure requests, which carry no penalties.

The number of cases in Japan has topped 11,000, and Tokyo is reporting more than 100 cases daily.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

—WHO ISSUES WARNING: The World Health Organization has warned that the lifting of lockdowns and other measures needs to be done gradually or there will likely be a resurgence of virus cases. The WHO regional director for the Western Pacific, Takeshi Kasai, said "we need to ready ourselves for a new way of living for the foreseeable future." He said governments must remain vigilant, and the lifting of lockdowns and other social distancing measures must strike the right balance between keeping people healthy and allowing economies to function.

— INDONESIA BANS VISITS: Indonesian President Joko Widodo has banned people in the world's most populous Muslim-majority nation from returning to their hometowns to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, the end of the dawn-to-sunset fasting during Ramadan. The announcement came amid warnings from health experts that Indonesia could face an explosion of coronavirus cases that could infect more than a million people after Ramadan unless the government takes stricter measures.

— MORRISON BACKS INVESTIGATION: Australia's prime minister has backed his foreign minister's call for an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus. China's foreign ministry has already rejected the call for an independent review into the origins of the virus including China's handling of the initial outbreak. But Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Tuesday that his minister's proposal had his "very, very strong support."

— AUSTRALIA SURGERIES TO RESUME: Australia will allow the resumption of non-urgent surgeries next week as health authorities grow more confident that hospitals won't be overwhelmed by coronavirus patients. State and federal leaders agreed that elective surgeries and medical procedures including in vitro fertilization will restart gradually after being prohibited on March 27.

— HONG KONG EXTENDS CLOSURES: Hong Kong announced a two-week extension of measures to control the spread of the coronavirus, including bans on public gatherings of more than four people and the closure of entertainment venues. Businesses such as bars, pubs, beauty salons and karaoke bars will remain closed until at least May 7. Restaurants, which have been allowed to operate, can only to do so at half their capacity with tables spaced approximately 1.5 meters (5 feet) apart. The measures had been due to expire April 23.

— SOUTH KOREA CASES FALL: South Korea reported nine new coronavirus infections and one more death, bringing its totals to 10,683 cases and 237 deaths. The country's caseload has slowed from early March, when it was reporting about 500 new cases a day. Infections continue to wane in the hardest-hit city of Daegu, which reported two new cases. While calling for vigilance to maintain hard-won gains against the virus, officials have relaxed social distancing guidelines, such as administrative orders advising churches, gyms and bars to close.

— CHINA REPORTS NO NEW DEATHS: China reported another 11 cases, including six in the province of Heilongjiang that borders Russia. No new deaths were reported, with the total remaining at 4,632 among 82,758 infections. Despite the dramatic fall in cases, China has maintained strict social distancing rules, including a ban on foreign travelers.

— INFECTION ON DOCKED CRUISE SHIP: A crew member on the Italian-operated cruise ship Costa Atlantica, docked in Nagasaki in southern Japan, has tested positive for the virus after developing cough and fever. The ship has been docked since late January for repairs and maintenance and no passengers are aboard. It has 623 crew members, who have not left the ship since mid-March. Three others also tested Monday were not infected, officials said.

— SINGAPORE EXTENDS LOCKDOWN: Singapore is extending its lockdown by another four weeks after a sharp upsurge in cases in recent days. The tiny city-state reported 1,111 new infections Tuesday, taking its total to 9,125, the highest in Southeast Asia. Foreign workers staying in crowded dormitories account for nearly 80% of the ionfections. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said clusters in the dorms have been largely contained, but that non-essential businesses and schools will remain closed until June 1.

— SOUTH KOREAN BASEBALL RESUMES: South Korea's professional baseball league has decided to begin its new season on May 5, initially without fans, following a postponement over the coronavirus. The Korea Baseball Organization made the announcement Tuesday while teams began their pre-season exhibition games in empty stadiums. The league says fans will be barred from games until the risk of infections are gone.

— WHO CAR ATTACKED IN MYANMAR: A car used by the World Health Organization to transport samples to be tested for the coronavirus was attacked in western Myanmar, killing the driver and wounding a passenger. The Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported Tuesday that the vehicle with a U.N. license plate was attacked in Rakhine state. Rakhine has been the scene of fighting between the government and the Arakan Army, an ethnic guerrilla group fighting for autonomy. Each side blamed the other for the attack.

(KR)