Japan cancels Emperor’s public birthday

Japan cancels Emperor’s public birthday celebrations amid coronavirus fears as government tells people to avoid ‘non-essential gatherings’

  • Emperor Naruhito will no longer appear at his birthday celebration in Tokyo  
  • The celebrations were to be the Emperor’s first since he took the throne in 2019
  • The last time the celebrations were cancelled was in 1996, when hostages were taken at Japan’s embassy in Peru at an event to mark the monarch’s birthday 

Japan said Monday it would cancel a public gathering to celebrate the birthday of new Emperor Naruhito, as fears grow over the spread of the new coronavirus in the country.

‘In light of various situations, we have decided to cancel the visit by the general public to the palace for His Majesty’s birthday,’ the imperial household agency said in a statement a day after the government warned people to avoid crowds and ‘non-essential gatherings.’

‘His Majesty’s appearance in the morning as well as the public signing of the greeting book will be cancelled.’

Emperor Naruhito is pictured addressing a ceremony for a rehabilitation centre in Tokorozawa, Japan on January 22, 2020. The birthday celebrations were to be the Emperor’s first since he took the throne last year 

At least 60 people in Japan have so far been diagnosed with the virus, with Health Minister Katsunobu Kato warning on Sunday that the nation was ‘entering a new phase’ of the outbreak.

‘We want to ask the public to avoid non-urgent, non-essential gatherings. We want elderly and those with pre-existing conditions to avoid crowded places,’ he said.

The birthday gathering on February 23 was cancelled as local media reported that the amateur section of the Tokyo Marathon, scheduled for March 1, would be cancelled.

Health Minister Katsunobu Kato is pictured announcing Japan's first death from the COVID-19 coronavirus in Tokyo on 13 February, 2020. Kato warned yesterday that the virus is 'entering a new phase' of the outbreak

Health Minister Katsunobu Kato is pictured announcing Japan’s first death from the COVID-19 coronavirus in Tokyo on 13 February, 2020. Kato warned yesterday that the virus is ‘entering a new phase’ of the outbreak 

Two people wearing masks pose at a street on February 11, 2020, in Tokyo, Japan

Two people wearing masks pose at a street on February 11, 2020, in Tokyo, Japan

‘We have no formal decision to announce yet. We are studying and once a decision is made we will announce it, by today,’ a spokeswoman said.

The birthday celebration for Emperor Naruhito was to be the first since he took the throne last year.

The last time the gathering was cancelled was in 1996, after hostages were taken at the Japanese embassy in Peru during an event to mark the monarch’s birthday.

 



Thai City worker is assaulted and robbed by two teenagers who shouted ‘coronavirus’ at him

Someone who is infected with the coronavirus can spread it with just a simple cough or a sneeze, scientists say.

Almost 1,800 people with the virus are now confirmed to have died and more than 71,000 have been infected. But experts predict the true number of people with the disease could be as high as 350,000 in Wuhan alone, as they warn it may kill as many as two in 100 cases.  Here’s what we know so far:

What is the coronavirus? 

A coronavirus is a type of virus which can cause illness in animals and people. Viruses break into cells inside their host and use them to reproduce itself and disrupt the body’s normal functions. Coronaviruses are named after the Latin word ‘corona’, which means crown, because they are encased by a spiked shell which resembles a royal crown.

The coronavirus from Wuhan is one which has never been seen before this outbreak. It has been named SARS-CoV-2 by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses. The name stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2.

Experts say the bug, which has killed around one in 50 patients since the outbreak began in December, is a ‘sister’ of the SARS illness which hit China in 2002, so has been named after it.

The disease that the virus causes has been named COVID-19, which stands for coronavirus disease 2019.

Dr Helena Maier, from the Pirbright Institute, said: ‘Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that infect a wide range of different species including humans, cattle, pigs, chickens, dogs, cats and wild animals. 

‘Until this new coronavirus was identified, there were only six different coronaviruses known to infect humans. Four of these cause a mild common cold-type illness, but since 2002 there has been the emergence of two new coronaviruses that can infect humans and result in more severe disease (Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronaviruses). 

‘Coronaviruses are known to be able to occasionally jump from one species to another and that is what happened in the case of SARS, MERS and the new coronavirus. The animal origin of the new coronavirus is not yet known.’ 

The first human cases were publicly reported from the Chinese city of Wuhan, where approximately 11million people live, after medics first started publicly reporting infections on December 31.

By January 8, 59 suspected cases had been reported and seven people were in critical condition. Tests were developed for the new virus and recorded cases started to surge.

The first person died that week and, by January 16, two were dead and 41 cases were confirmed. The next day, scientists predicted that 1,700 people had become infected, possibly up to 7,000.

Just a week after that, there had been more than 800 confirmed cases and those same scientists estimated that some 4,000 – possibly 9,700 – were infected in Wuhan alone. By that point, 26 people had died. 

By January 27, more than 2,800 people were confirmed to have been infected, 81 had died, and estimates of the total number of cases ranged from 100,000 to 350,000 in Wuhan alone.

By January 29, the number of deaths had risen to 132 and cases were in excess of 6,000.  

By February 5, there were more than 24,000 cases and 492 deaths.

By February 11, this had risen to more than 43,000 cases and 1,000 deaths. 

A change in the way cases are confirmed on February 13 – doctors decided to start using lung scans as a formal diagnosis, as well as laboratory tests – caused a spike in the number of cases, to more than 60,000 and to 1,369 deaths. 

Where does the virus come from?

According to scientists, the virus has almost certainly come from bats. Coronaviruses in general tend to originate in animals – the similar SARS and MERS viruses are believed to have originated in civet cats and camels, respectively.

The first cases of COVID-19 came from people visiting or working in a live animal market in the city, which has since been closed down for investigation.

Although the market is officially a seafood market, other dead and living animals were being sold there, including wolf cubs, salamanders, snakes, peacocks, porcupines and camel meat. 

A study by the Wuhan Institute of Virology, published in February 2020 in the scientific journal Nature, found that the genetic make-up virus samples found in patients in China is 96 per cent similar to a coronavirus they found in bats.

However, there were not many bats at the market so scientists say it was likely there was an animal which acted as a middle-man, contracting it from a bat before then transmitting it to a human. It has not yet been confirmed what type of animal this was.

Dr Michael Skinner, a virologist at Imperial College London, was not involved with the research but said: ‘The discovery definitely places the origin of nCoV in bats in China.

‘We still do not know whether another species served as an intermediate host to amplify the virus, and possibly even to bring it to the market, nor what species that host might have been.’  

So far the fatalities are quite low. Why are health experts so worried about it? 

Experts say the international community is concerned about the virus because so little is known about it and it appears to be spreading quickly.

It is similar to SARS, which infected 8,000 people and killed nearly 800 in an outbreak in Asia in 2003, in that it is a type of coronavirus which infects humans’ lungs.  

Another reason for concern is that nobody has any immunity to the virus because they’ve never encountered it before. This means it may be able to cause more damage than viruses we come across often, like the flu or common cold.

Speaking at a briefing in January, Oxford University professor, Dr Peter Horby, said: ‘Novel viruses can spread much faster through the population than viruses which circulate all the time because we have no immunity to them.

‘Most seasonal flu viruses have a case fatality rate of less than one in 1,000 people. Here we’re talking about a virus where we don’t understand fully the severity spectrum but it’s possible the case fatality rate could be as high as two per cent.’

If the death rate is truly two per cent, that means two out of every 100 patients who get it will die. 

‘My feeling is it’s lower,’ Dr Horby added. ‘We’re probably missing this iceberg of milder cases. But that’s the current circumstance we’re in.

‘Two per cent case fatality rate is comparable to the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918 so it is a significant concern globally.’

How does the virus spread?

The illness can spread between people just through coughs and sneezes, making it an extremely contagious infection. And it may also spread even before someone has symptoms.

It is believed to travel in the saliva and even through water in the eyes, therefore close contact, kissing, and sharing cutlery or utensils are all risky. 

Originally, people were thought to be catching it from a live animal market in Wuhan city. But cases soon began to emerge in people who had never been there, which forced medics to realise it was spreading from person to person.

There is now evidence that it can spread third hand – to someone from a person who caught it from another person.

What does the virus do to you? What are the symptoms?

Once someone has caught the COVID-19 virus it may take between two and 14 days, or even longer, for them to show any symptoms – but they may still be contagious during this time.

If and when they do become ill, typical signs include a runny nose, a cough, sore throat and a fever (high temperature). The vast majority of patients – at least 97 per cent, based on available data – will recover from these without any issues or medical help.

In a small group of patients, who seem mainly to be the elderly or those with long-term illnesses, it can lead to pneumonia. Pneumonia is an infection in which the insides of the lungs swell up and fill with fluid. It makes it increasingly difficult to breathe and, if left untreated, can be fatal and suffocate people. 

What have genetic tests revealed about the virus? 

Scientists in China have recorded the genetic sequences of around 19 strains of the virus and released them to experts working around the world. 

This allows others to study them, develop tests and potentially look into treating the illness they cause.   

Examinations have revealed the coronavirus did not change much – changing is known as mutating – much during the early stages of its spread.

However, the director-general of China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Gao Fu, said the virus was mutating and adapting as it spread through people.

This means efforts to study the virus and to potentially control it may be made extra difficult because the virus might look different every time scientists analyse it.   

More study may be able to reveal whether the virus first infected a small number of people then change and spread from them, or whether there were various versions of the virus coming from animals which have developed separately.

How dangerous is the virus?  

The virus has a death rate of around two per cent. This is a similar death rate to the Spanish Flu outbreak which, in 1918, went on to kill around 50million people.

However, experts say the true number of patients is likely considerably higher and therefore the death rate considerably lower. Imperial College London researchers estimate that there were 4,000 (up to 9,700) cases in Wuhan city alone up to January 18 – officially there were only 444 there to that date. If cases are in fact 100 times more common than the official figures, the virus may be far less dangerous than currently believed, but also far more widespread. 

Experts say it is likely only the most seriously ill patients are seeking help and are therefore recorded – the vast majority will have only mild, cold-like symptoms. For those whose conditions do become more severe, there is a risk of developing pneumonia which can destroy the lungs and kill you.

Can the virus be cured? 

The COVID-19 virus cannot currently be cured and it is proving difficult to contain.

Antibiotics do not work against viruses, so they are out of the question. Antiviral drugs can work, but the process of understanding a virus then developing and producing drugs to treat it would take years and huge amounts of money.

No vaccine exists for the coronavirus yet and it’s not likely one will be developed in time to be of any use in this outbreak, for similar reasons to the above.

The National Institutes of Health in the US, and Baylor University in Waco, Texas, say they are working on a vaccine based on what they know about coronaviruses in general, using information from the SARS outbreak. But this may take a year or more to develop, according to Pharmaceutical Technology.

Currently, governments and health authorities are working to contain the virus and to care for patients who are sick and stop them infecting other people.

People who catch the illness are being quarantined in hospitals, where their symptoms can be treated and they will be away from the uninfected public.

And airports around the world are putting in place screening measures such as having doctors on-site, taking people’s temperatures to check for fevers and using thermal screening to spot those who might be ill (infection causes a raised temperature).

However, it can take weeks for symptoms to appear, so there is only a small likelihood that patients will be spotted up in an airport.

Is this outbreak an epidemic or a pandemic?   

The outbreak is an epidemic, which is when a disease takes hold of one community such as a country or region. 

Although it has spread to dozens of countries, the outbreak is not yet classed as a pandemic, which is defined by the World Health Organization as the ‘worldwide spread of a new disease’.

The head of WHO’s global infectious hazard preparedness, Dr Sylvie Briand, said: ‘Currently we are not in a pandemic. We are at the phase where it is an epidemic with multiple foci, and we try to extinguish the transmission in each of these foci,’ the Guardian reported.

She said that most cases outside of Hubei had been ‘spillover’ from the epicentre, so the disease wasn’t actually spreading actively around the world.



Quarantined cruise ship is hit by ANOTHER 99 coronavirus cases

Quarantined cruise ship is hit by ANOTHER 99 coronavirus cases bringing total to 454 hours after American passengers were evacuated

  • The dozens of new cases were confirmed today after latest batch of 504 tests
  • Of the 99 new patients, 70 had not shown any symptoms of the killer virus
  • Hundreds more passengers are still in the dark over how they will leave ship 

Another 99 cases of coronavirus have today been confirmed on board the Diamond Princess, taking the total on the quarantined cruise ship to 454. 

The dozens of new cases were revealed today after another batch of 504 tests, Japanese media said. 

Of the 99 new patients, 70 had not shown any symptoms of the virus. 

Hundreds more passengers are still in the dark over how and when they will leave the cruise ship, just two days before the quarantine is due to end.  

Another 99 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed on board the Diamond Princess, taking the total on the quarantined cruise ship to 454

Passengers have been confined to their cabins in a two-week lockdown in Yokohama which is scheduled to end on Wednesday, February 19. 

The ship was quarantined by Japanese authorities with 3,711 people on board after a Hong Kong passenger who left the ship last month tested positive for the virus.  

A total of 1,723 of those people have now been tested, of whom 454 have been found to have the virus. 

The cruise ship is already the largest cluster of cases outside China and the spiralling numbers have caused growing concern among passengers.  

It was not clear whether the latest figures included 14 US citizens who tested positive but were allowed to fly home this morning. 

They were among hundreds of US citizens who were evacuated on a charter flight early today, with Canada, Australia and others poised to follow suit. 

But British passengers are among hundreds still in limbo with the Foreign Office ‘urgently considering its options’ today.  

British passenger David Abel said it ‘feels that we have been forgotten’ as he urged the UK government to airlift its citizens out of Yokohama. 

It is understood that a repatriation flight is one of a number of options being considered by the Government.  

Princess Cruises says it is being ‘led by Japanese authorities’ and the ship’s crew are waiting to hear from foreign embassies ahead of Wednesday’s deadline. 

Medical staff wearing protective suits are seen at Daikoku Pier Cruise Terminal where the Diamond Princess is anchored

Medical staff wearing protective suits are seen at Daikoku Pier Cruise Terminal where the Diamond Princess is anchored

The ship’s captain told passengers today: ‘I want to reassure you that we are coordinating closely with our embassies to understand the arrangements for you once you are cleared from the quarantine and how we can best support you. 

‘In the meantime we continue to work with the Japanese ministry of health to seek updates on their intentions.

‘I understand that you have more and more questions relating to the disembarkation procedures and your return home as we get closer to the 19th. 

‘The entire Princess Cruises team here on board and on shore is working tirelessly to coordinate with all the various national authorities and get information to you. 

‘I will get back to you with more details as soon as possible.’  

The captain’s announcement was shared on social media by one of the passengers on board.   

On land, cases in Japan have risen to 65, with authorities warning that the outbreak is entering a ‘new phase’ and advising people to avoid large gatherings.

A public celebration of the new emperor’s birthday on Sunday has been scrapped over virus fears. 

In addition, organisers of the Tokyo Marathon scheduled on March 1 are reportedly considering cancelling the amateur part of the race.  



Branch of Clarks shoe shop closes in Coronavirus scare as member of staff is sent for testing 

Branch of Clarks shoe shop closes in Coronavirus scare as member of staff is sent for testing

  • Store in Nantwich, Cheshire closed Friday afternoon and missed Saturday trade
  • Clarks said it had closed on advice it had received from Public Health England 
  • One employee has been tested for the Coronavirus and is in self-quarantine 

A branch of British shoe retailer Clarks closed its doors to customers over the weekend after a member of its staff was suspected to have contracted the Coronavirus.

The store in Nantwich, Cheshire, was closed on Friday afternoon amid fears an employee had the super virus.

Shoppers were seen walking up to the entrance of the store on Saturday morning after it was closed following advice from Public Health England. 

On Saturday a sign on the front door read: ‘This store is closed due to unforeseen circumstances’. 

A branch of Clarks shoe shop in Nantwich, Cheshire, was closed over the weekend due to a Coronavirus scare 

A sign outside the shop read: 'This store is closed due to unforeseen circumstances. You can still shop online at www.clarks.co.uk. Sorry for the inconvenience'

A sign outside the shop read: ‘This store is closed due to unforeseen circumstances. You can still shop online at www.clarks.co.uk. Sorry for the inconvenience’ 

The shop was left in the darkness over the weekend, a sign was left on the door informing customers of the closure

The shop was left in the darkness over the weekend, a sign was left on the door informing customers of the closure

The store is not open on Sundays.   

On Saturday a spokesman for Clarks said: ‘We can confirm that Clarks is currently taking advice from Public Health England regarding an individual at our Nantwich store.

‘The employee in question has been tested for Coronavirus, and is now in self-quarantine following advice from Public Health England as we await their test results.

‘We are currently being guided by Public Health England on the actions to take and our priority remains to protect the welfare of all Clarks staff, our customers and the public.

Shoppers were seen walking up to the door of the store before realising that it was actually closed on Saturday afternoon

Shoppers were seen walking up to the door of the store before realising that it was actually closed on Saturday afternoon 

‘As a business we have introduced many measures to protect both public and staff safety both in line with and in addition to current government advice.

‘Our Nantwich store is currently closed. We are unable to share any further details at this time.’

Public Health England said it did not comment on suspected cases.

The store in Nantwich is situated on the high street and is next to a Timpson and an opticians

The store in Nantwich is situated on the high street and is next to a Timpson and an opticians 

On Saturday NHS England said all but one of the nine UK patients who tested positive for the Covid-19 coronavirus had been discharged from hospital.

Some of the first Britons to catch the deadly disease, which has so far killed 1,527 people and infected 67,091, caught the killer infection in a French ski chalet from a Brighton man who stayed at the same resort.

In York, a university student and his mother were tested positive for the virus.

The latest victim, who was diagnosed in London on February 12, is thought to have flown into the UK from China a few days ago, with officials confirming she caught the virus in China. 

It is unclear which of the nine patients remains in hospital.  

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said earlier this week that the coronavirus outbreak is a ‘serious and imminent’ threat to the British public. 



South Korea tracks coronavirus patients’ locations using phone data and publishes it online 

South Korea tracks coronavirus patients’ locations using phone data and CCTV footage – then publishes it online

  • South Korean government tracks coronavirus patients and publishes locations 
  • All 29 confirmed cases are tracked using phone data, credit cards and CCTV
  • Their locations are then published on Ministry of Health and Welfare website

The journeys of all of South Korea‘s confirmed cases of the deadly coronavirus are tracked by the government and published online.

So far South Korea has 29 confirmed cases of Covid-19, which to date has killed more then 1,600 people worldwide.

All of those in the country who have tested positive for the new virus have their travels and whereabouts logged by government officials.

Using mobile phone data, credit card records, CCTV footage and public transport cards, authorities pinpoint the activities of the 29 patients.

These travel logs are then uploaded onto the Ministry of Health and Welfare website so other citizens know if they could have come in to contact with an infected person.  

South Korea’s Minister of Oceans and Fisheries Moon Seong-hyeok (second left) entering the arrival area at the international passenger terminal to check ongoing quarantine efforts in Busan last week 

Football fans in Yokohama being tested for signs of the coronavirus ahead  game last week

Football fans in Yokohama being tested for signs of the coronavirus ahead  game last week

Other Asian countries with high rates of infection also track their infected citizens.

China, the epicentre of the outbreak where 68,500 cases have been reported, uses data from mobile phone locations and information gathered from face-to-face interviews. 

Hong Kong monitors families quarantined at home with electronic wristbands and Taiwan tracks people under home quarantine using their mobile phone signals.  

As of Sunday there were 1,665 deaths, mostly in Hubei province. Chins reported the third straight drop in coronavirus cases. 

South Korea has the sixth largest number of confirmed cases, behind only China, Singapore, Thailand, Japan and Hong Kong.

Soul’s wide-reaching surveillance is unique from its neighbours for the level of details and the fact it is hared online with the public. 

Travellers arriving  into South Korea from China have to hand over their phone numbers in order the enter the country.

They then have to download a government app to report their health status every day. Failure to do so leads to government officials calling the visitor to work their their location.  

A subway worker disinfecting a train at a depot, as a precaution against coroavirus, in Incheon, South Korea

A subway worker disinfecting a train at a depot, as a precaution against coroavirus, in Incheon, South Korea

Patients who test positive are told their personal data is being published but they cannot object or opt out. 

Abdi Mahamud, a senior World Health Organization official coordinating a Covid-19 response team in the western Pacific region said using ‘big data’ can aid early detection and outbreak responses.

He told The Wall Street Journal: ‘However, this is an emerging field and caution needs to be taken on the interpretation of this kind of information.’ 

The coronavirus that emerged in central China at the end of last year has now killed more than 1,600 people and spread around the world.

The latest figures from China show there are almost 69,000 people infected in the country.

Outside mainland China, there have been about 780 infections reported in nearly 30 locations. Taiwan, the Philippines, Hong Kong and Japan have each reported one fatality, while France on Saturday announced the first death outside Asia, an elderly Chinese tourist.

Africa reported its first infection when a patient was discovered in Egypt on Friday.