In the Japanese capital of Tokyo, officials reported 816 new daily coronavirus cases on Sunday, a day after governors from the capital and neighboring prefectures called on the Japanese government to announce a state of emergency to combat a recent surge in cases.
Japan’s health ministry said there were 3,045 new confirmed cases of the new coronavirus across the country.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has resisted calls for a second national state of emergency; the government first introduced that measure in April during an earlier wave of the pandemic. Suga is scheduled to speak publicly on Jan. 4.
Japan’s economy minister told reporters on Saturday the government needed to consult with health experts before deciding on a new declaration.
As an interim measure, restaurants and karaoke parlors in the Tokyo area are being asked to close at 8 p.m., while businesses that serve alcohol should close at 7 p.m., he said.
The previous state of emergency relied on voluntary business closings and travel restrictions rather than the sort of rigid lockdown measures seen elsewhere in the world.
Tokyo raised its COVID-19 alert to its highest level on Dec. 17. New infections in the capital hit a record 1,337 on Dec. 31.
Since the start of the pandemic, Japan has reported more than 240,000 cases of the novel coronavirus and 3,548 deaths, according to the health ministry.
South Korea says it is containing third wave
In South Korea, a health official said on Sunday that a third wave of the novel coronavirus is being contained, as it reported the lowest number of new infections in nearly four weeks with the help of tougher restrictions during the New Year holiday season.
New cases for Saturday numbered 657, Reuters reported – much lower than 824 the day before, but bringing the country’s total cases to 63,244 with 962 deaths, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).
“The latest third wave of coronavirus spread is being contained as a result of expanded COVID-19 testing (recently) and strengthened distancing measures,” Sohn Young-rae, a senior health official, told a briefing.
He said the worst for the country seems to be passing, though added it is premature to say the situation has definitely shifted to a decline, given the decreased testing during the New Year holiday and weekends.
The government decided on Saturday to expand a ban on private gatherings larger than four people to include the whole country, and extend unprecedented social distancing rules in Seoul and neighbouring areas until Jan. 17.
Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham has warned it could be a “chaotic situation” on Monday with the return to school of most primary children in England.
He told the BBC’s Breakfast programme: “There are many parents in Greater Manchester waking up quite anxious this morning, teachers as well of course and support staff in schools, and children.
“So there’s a lot of people who are worried about what’s happening and I think the really important thing is this doesn’t become a big political row today.
“What we need to find is a practical way through all of this. I would say that the current course is not going to work.”
He added: “It will be quite a chaotic situation tomorrow I think given all of the anxieties that people have.”
Thailand’s government held off from ordering new nationwide business shutdowns on Sunday amid a new wave of coronavirus cases, Reuters reported, but empowered some provincial governors to set their own restrictions and pleaded with the public not to travel.
Thailand, which had largely controlled the virus by mid-2020, saw a second wave of outbreaks beginning in December.
On Sunday, it confirmed 315 new coronavirus cases, the majority of which are from local transmission, bringing its total to 7,694 cases and 64 deaths since its first case last January.
The country also reported its first known case of a more contagious variant of the coronavirus called B.1.1.7 on Sunday, Yong Poovorawan, a senior virologist from Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, said in a post on his official Facebook page.
The variant was found in a family of four who were in quarantine after arriving in Thailand from the UK, and Yong said there is no risk of that variant being spread in Thailand.
The government COVID-19 taskforce had earlier designated 28 provinces, including Bangkok, as high risk zones and recommended suspension of some businesses and crowded activities in those area that pose infection risks to the public.
The measures, which still need final approval from Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, will empower provincial governors to suspend businesses and other activities if there is a risk of infection, Taweesin Wisanuyothin, a spokesman for Thailand’s COVID-19 taskforce said.
Good morning and welcome to the Guardian’s rolling coverage of coronavirus in the UK and around the world.
In Britain this morning, Boris Johnson is due to be interviewed by Andrew Marr for the BBC. He’ll face what is likely to be a testing encounter, his first one-to-one interview since the government changed its guidance over Christmas and as case numbers continue to rise.
The Sunday newspapers are leading on coverage of the vaccine rollout and the battle over reopening of schools, with my Observer colleagues Michael Savage and Donna Ferguson reporting:
Elsewhere, India authorized the AstraZeneca vaccine for use as well sa one developed by Indian company Bharat Biotech. Russia has just reported another 24,150 coronavirus cases and 504 deaths in the last 24 hours, slightly fewer cases but more deaths than yesterday. Germany, meanwhile, reported 10,315 new cases, and 312 deaths.
We’ll bring you all the developments as they happen.