Japan traces new coronavirus outbreak to Tokyo theatre boy-band show

People enjoy drinks and dinner at the partially reopened Japanese drinking bars alley, after the Japanese government lifted the state of emergency at Shinjuku district in Tokyo May 26, 2020. — Reuters pic
People enjoy drinks and dinner at the partially reopened Japanese drinking bars alley, after the Japanese government lifted the state of emergency at Shinjuku district in Tokyo May 26, 2020. — Reuters pic

TOKYO, July 14 — Tokyo health officials appealed today for more than 800 theatregoers to get tested for the novel coronavirus after a production starring Japanese boy-band members was found to be the source of at least 20 cases.

As the number of virus infections continues to rise in Japan's capital city, the Tokyo government said it was focussing on a 190-seat theatre in the Shinjuku entertainment district, where infections have also been traced to cabaret clubs.

Japan is pushing ahead with opening up parts of the country, with plans to reopen a runway at one of the country's biggest airports, even as infections persist in major cities, rural areas and US military bases.

"It's crucial that we maintain caution and prevent the further spread of infections, while at the same time pursue economic activity," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference.

The latest cluster has been traced to Theatre Moliere, near Tokyo's red-light district, which staged a play for six days starring mainly up-and-coming boy-band members earlier this month.

The Tokyo government said it learned of the first infection among a cast member on July 6, after which testing found 20 related cases by late yesterday. It called on all audience members who attended the performance to get tested.

The producers of the play, “Werewolf,” released a statement yesterday also asking audience members to seek health advice.

“Following a large number of infections seen among our spectators, we have been informed that all 800 spectators who came to see the performance have been identified as high-risk contacts,” Rise Communications said on its website.

As Tokyo struggles to contain virus infections, travel routes to and from the city continue to open up. Narita International Airport, one of the two main airports serving the capital, is planning to re-open its second runway ahead of a public holiday next week, public broadcaster NHK reported.

Tokyo reported 119 new cases of coronavirus infections yesterday following a four-day run when the daily tally exceeded 200. Overall, Japan has reported around 23,000 infections, and nearly 1,000 related deaths.

While Japan has avoided more disastrous outbreaks seen in other countries, it faces a deep recession instead of enjoying a tourism boom that was expected with the now-postponed Olympics.

A recent Tokyo survey by the Asahi Shimbun daily showed that 59 percent believe the Games should be postponed again or cancelled, underscoring the public's worries about the pandemic.

The Asahi today reported that the Japanese government was considering easing entry restrictions for athletes. — Reuters

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