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Asia Today: Central Japan region put under virus emergency

TOKYO – A governor in central Japan announced a state of emergency Thursday because of rising virus cases and asked businesses and people to curb activities, especially during an upcoming holiday.

Aichi prefecture has been seeing more than 100 new infections a day since mid-July after an extended period with zero new cases. The prefecture includes Nagoya and the headquarters of Toyota Motor Corp., Japan’s top automaker.

Gov. Hideaki Ohmura said businesses are being asked to close altogether or close early, and people are requested to stay home at night to prevent infections from spreading.

The requests continue through Aug. 24, a period that includes Japan's Obon holidays.

“The situation we are in is very serious,” Ohmura said.

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike also asked people to not travel outside the capital during the Obon holidays, when Japanese families customarily visit their parents in their hometowns.

“Please protect your family,” she said. “This summer is special. Please do not go on trips this summer.”

Tokyo stopped short of declaring an emergency, but Koike said the city is ready to do so, if needed.

Japan has not had a lockdown. Voluntary emergency measures were put in place in April but were gradually lifted.

Last week, the southwestern island prefecture of Okinawa also declared its own local emergency.

Japan has more than 43,400 cases and about 1,000 deaths, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— A makeshift hospital with 700 beds for virus patients has been completed in a Vietnamese city struggling with an outbreak. The hospital in Da Nang, converted from a sports venue, will be ready for patients on Saturday and its capacity can be increased to 3,000 beds, the health ministry said. Over 100 health workers were mobilized from other cities to help treat patients in Da Nang. Vietnam reported another death and 20 new infections Thursday. Vietnam went months without any local infections before an outbreak emerged in Da Nang two weeks ago among a hospital's patients and staff. It has grown to 270 local infections, and other cases have been found in 11 provinces and municipalities, including Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. Authorities are ramping up contact tracing.

— The leader of Australian virus hot spot Victoria state urged residents not to panic-buy as he announced reductions in meat production. The state capital, Melbourne, began its first full day of tough lockdown restrictions on Thursday as Victoria posted 471 new cases and eight deaths. Premier Daniel Andrews said beef, lamb and pork production will be reduced by one third because of virus transmission risks in abattoirs and meat processing plants. Poultry production will be reduced by 20%. “All of these measures are designed to drive down to the lowest numbers of workers we can practically get to without at the same time delivering a shortage of products,” Andrews said. He said there was no need for shoppers to stockpile. “You may not necessarily be able to get exactly the cut of meat that you want, but you will get what you need and you will get all the products that are, basically, fundamentally important to you,” he said.

— India recorded its biggest single-day death toll of 904 as new infections surged by 56,282 to nearly 2 million. The Health Ministry says the total fatalities reached 40,699, half of them in the past 30 days. India has the third-most cases in the world and the fifth-highest death toll. A fire at a hospital intensive-care unit killed eight coronavirus patients in the western city of Ahmedabad. Thirty-five patients were shifted to other hospitals. An electrical short-circuit was suspected of causing the fire.

— The Philippines reported a total of more than 119,000 coronavirus cases, overtaking Indonesia with the most infections in Southeast Asia, as its economy shrank alarmingly and plunged into recession. The Department of Health reported 3,561 new cases on Thursday, bringing the country’s total to 119,460, including 2,150 deaths. Indonesia reported a total of 118,753 confirmed infections Thursday with 5,521 deaths. Officials said the economy contracted 16.5% in the second quarter, its worst performance in decades. The economy had begun to improve slightly after President Rodrigo Duterte eased a three-month lockdown in June. But he reimposed a two-week moderate lockdown on Tuesday in the capital and outlying provinces after medical groups warned the health care system was being overwhelmed and could collapse. “I’ll be honest with you, the economy can no longer withstand a much longer lockdown,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said. "We’re at a point where maybe COVID-19 can be slowed considerably, but while there are no jobs, how will ordinary people survive?” The Philippines and Indonesia have struggled with limited capacity for testing and tracking suspected patients.

— Nepal’s government has reimposed some restrictions, shutting down hotels and restaurants and restricting travel because of the increasing number of coronavirus cases. The Home Ministry said all gatherings will be prohibited and movement of people and vehicles will not be allowed at night. In districts with high numbers of cases, vehicles will only be allowed on the streets on alternating days. Nepal's lockdown imposed in March lasted for 120 days before being lifted last month. The country has 21,390 cases and 60 deaths.

— China's biggest recent outbreak of the coronavirus has grown slightly. More than 600 people have developed COVID-19 in the far northwestern region of Xinjiang, with 27 new cases reported Thursday in its capital, Urumqi. Three other cases were reported in the northeastern city of Dalian, where a smaller outbreak has been traced to a seafood market, and seven cases were reported among Chinese travelers arriving from overseas for a total of 37 over the previous 24 hours. Hong Kong reported 85 new cases and one additional death. The origin of 33 of the cases is unknown, according to the city’s Center for Health Protection. Hong Kong has recorded 43 deaths from the virus among more than 3,700 cases.