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Asia Minute

Asia Minute: Japan Deals with Growing COVID Wave

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AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko
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A woman wearing a protective mask to help curb the spread of the coronavirus walks in front of social distancing notice in Tokyo Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021.

Japan's Prime Minister says safeguarding the country's hospital system is one of his top priorities. He made the comments to parliament Monday in an opening address that comes as the country is struggling with a growing spread of the coronavirus.

Japan’s hospital system is shifting to deal with an increasing number of Covid-19 cases. Tokyo’s governor has asked public hospitals in the city to free up an additional 1,700 beds for coronavirus patients — leading to the closure of a maternity ward at one leading facility.

City officials say nearly 8,000 Covid patients are waiting for hospital beds in Tokyo. That’s one of ten areas remaining under a state of emergency, for at least about another three weeks.

While most restaurants are obeying the voluntary guidance to close early, other business continues.

Japan’s parliament, the Diet, has just opened a new session. Even the New Year’s Sumo tournament is on — although spectators are limited to 5,000 and The Japan Times reports some 65 wrestlers have dropped out because of the virus.

A little more than a week ago, a relatively junior sumo wrestler made headlines when he retired because of a fear of getting Covid — he has an underlying heart condition.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga says vaccines should start by late February, but a growing number of residents are not happy with his leadership. His most recent approval rating has plunged to 39% — with a disapproval rating at 49%.

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