TOKYO (AP) — Tokyo on Wednesday reported a daily record of 1,591 coronavirus cases as the national government prepares to declare a state of emergency this week to cope with a new wave of infections.
Those needing critical care in the capital also reached a record 113 people, according to the metropolitan government.
Toshio Nakagawa, head of the Japan Medical Association, called the situation “extremely serious” but stopped short of criticizing Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga for acting too slow to contain the latest outbreak, as some have suggested.
“Please take this virus seriously, and don’t think it’s just another flu,” Nakagawa said, warning hospital care was getting stretched thin.
Japan has confirmed more than 250,000 cases, including over 3,700 deaths.
Elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific region:
— Thailand is planning to expand testing to thousands of factories in a province next to Bangkok as it reported 365 new cases around the country on Wednesday and one new death. Authorities have focused their efforts on migrant workers mainly in the seafood industry in Samut Sakhon province that has been the epicenter of the new outbreak. They're also trying to trace itinerant gamblers who travel widely and are blamed for a second major hotspot outside Bangkok. Among the new cases, 250 are locally transmitted among Thais and 99 are migrant workers. The rest are overseas arrivals. That brings the total to 9,331, including 66 deaths — the latest being long-distance truck driver who worked from Samut Sakhon. Taweesilp Visanuyothin, a spokesperson for the COVID-19 coordinating center, said there were plans to test workers at more than 10,000 factories in Samut Sakhon, 100 of which have more than 500 employees each. The government has ordered a partial lockdown around Thailand, with strict travel restrictions in some areas. Schools, bars, gambling parlors and other public gathering places have been closed, although malls, departments stores and restaurants remain open with curtailed hours.
— China's Hebei is enforcing stricter control measures following a further rise in coronavirus cases in the province adjacent to the capital Beijing that's due to host events for next year’s Winter Olympics. The National Health Commission on Wednesday reported another 20 cases in Hebei, bringing the province’s total to 39 since Sunday. The top provincial official said residents of areas classified as medium or high risk, primarily in the cities of Shijiazhuang and Xingtai, were being tested and barred from going out. Those in neighborhoods ranked as medium risk could only leave after showing a negative test for the virus. Classes are shifting online and school dormitories are in lockdown. Also Wednesday, single cases were also reported in Beijing and the provinces of Lioaning and Heilongjiang, where mass testing and limited lockdowns have also been enforced. Liaoning’s provincial capital Shenyang has ordered people in16 districts to stay home and anyone seeking to leave the city must present a negative test obtained within 72 hours of departure, according to state broadcaster CCTV. Wary of another wave of infections, China is urging migrant workers to stay put during the Lunar New Year holidays next month. School classes are being dismissed early and tourists have been told not to come to Beijing.
— The U.S. Navy in the Pacific has started administering initial COVID-19 vaccinations to thousands of sailors. It comes a week after medical personnel and strategic forces were given their initial shots at Naval Hospital in Yokosuka, Japan, the 7th Fleet said. The fleet includes about 20,000 sailors operating 50-70 ships and submarines and 140 aircraft. The vaccinations are part of a “prioritized, phased approach” adopted by the Department of Defense to “protect our people, maintain readiness, and support the national COVID-19 response,” the fleet said. Vaccinations are being provided on a voluntary basis. Among those vaccinated were sailors aboard the USS Ronald Reagan, the fleet's only forward deployed aircraft carrier. The Navy has battled COVID-19, most notably in March aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, where more than 1,200 personnel were infected. After a memo from the ship’s captain warning of the threat was leaked, he was fired by the then-acting navy secretary, who himself was then fired amid the controversy.
— Sri Lanka police have begun conducting compulsory tests on people who fail to wear masks and maintain social distancing at public places, in the latest move to contain the coronavirus. Police spokesman Ajith Rohana said the tests are in addition to legal action against those violating the quarantine laws. On Tuesday, police arrested 1,060 people in Colombo and suburbs and 14 of them tested positive for the virus. A fresh outbreak came in October when two clusters — one centered on a garment factory and the other on a fish market — emerged in and around Colombo. The confirmed cases from the two clusters have reached 41,955 by Wednesday. Sri Lanka has reported a total of 45,728 cases with 217 fatalities.
— Indonesia has recorded 8,854 new coronavirus cases, another daily record, as President Joko Widodo announced the start of a vaccination program. Widodo said in a televised speech that he will receive a shot on Jan. 13 to build confidence in the vaccine. “Next week, I will be the first to be inoculated with the vaccine to show that it is safe and halal as the vaccination program starts nationwide,” Widodo said. The state-owned pharmaceutical company Bio Farma began distributing 3 million doses of the vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac Biotech across the archipelago nation, home to more than 270 million people. The new cases Wednesday bring the country's confirmed total to 788,402, the most in Southeast Asia and second in Asia only to India’s 10.3 million confirmed cases. It has recorded 23,296 deaths. The government has a target of vaccinating 70% of the population, or at least 182 million people, with health workers given the top priority.