The United States consulted jointly Thursday with South Korea and Japan, allies often at odds with each other, as President Joe Biden reviews how to move forward on North Korea.
Senior US diplomat Sung Kim and his counterparts promised “close cooperation” in a videoconference and “expressed their continued commitment to denuclearization and the maintenance of peace and stability on the Korean peninsula,” the State Department said.
The Biden administration says it is reviewing how to move forward with North Korea after former president Donald Trump held three splashy meetings with leader Kim Jong Un but failed to reach a lasting deal.
The Trump administration argued that it ended a diplomatic logjam and effectively stopped North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests, although critics say that Pyongyang nonetheless advanced on the programs.
Biden is expected to take a more low-key approach and his administration has pledged also to raise concerns over cybersecurity, with the Justice Department on Wednesday charging three North Korean intelligence officials over massive hacks.
Trump had strong relationships with both the Japanese and South Korean leaders, but relations between the two neighbours hit new lows during his presidency in disputes linked to the legacy of Japanese colonial rule.
As he stepped down, Mori was praised by officials including Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike and the International Olympic Committee.
Tokyo Olympics chief Yoshiro Mori bowed to mounting pressure and resigned Friday over sexist remarks, leaving a leadership vacuum after opposition emerged to his favoured successor.
The controversy over Mori’s comments has been an unwanted additional headache for organisers already struggling to win over a sceptical public less than six months before the Games open.
After a two-hour meeting, Tokyo 2020 organisers said they will form a committee with a 50-50 gender mix to select Mori’s replacement.
It will be headed by Canon CEO Fujio Mitarai, 85, an appointment that may not appease critics who say key positions consistently go to an entrenched old boy network.
Mori, 83, claimed last week that women speak too much in meetings, prompting outrage from officials, sports stars and Olympic sponsors.
On Friday he announced he would step down, effective immediately.
“My inappropriate statement has caused a lot of chaos. I would like to express my sincere apologies,” he told Tokyo 2020’s executive board and council.
“What is important is to hold the Olympics. It must not be the case that my presence becomes an obstacle to that.”
Reports initially suggested Mori had selected well-known sports administrator Saburo Kawabuchi, 84, to replace him.
The transition appeared a done deal, with the former footballer describing his planned priorities in the new job to Japanese media.
But opposition to the selection of another octogenarian — and Mori’s control over the process — quickly mounted.
By Friday afternoon, reports said Tokyo 2020 was under pressure to reverse the appointment, and Kawabuchi subsequently turned down the job.
Selection committee Tokyo 2020’s CEO Toshiro Muto said the new president should be chosen “as soon as possible” but set no deadline.
He said Mori’s successor needed to have some Games experience, but that gender would not be decisive.
“I don’t think we need to discuss the gender of the person. We will choose the most qualified person. Isn’t that what we should strive for?”
Muto said organisers had also decided to form a team to promote gender equality and would seek to increase female representation among its staff and senior executives.
But he declined to be drawn on any deadline for improving female representation or any specific gender balance goal, saying he hoped to see progress by a March 22 board meeting.
Mori’s resignation caps over a week of uproar after he told members of Japan’s Olympic Committee that women have difficulty speaking concisely, “which is annoying.”
He apologised but then defended his remarks and told reporters: “I don’t speak to women much.”
Several hundred Olympic volunteers have withdrawn in the wake of his comments and a petition calling for action against him gathered nearly 150,000 signatures.
On Friday Mori said he does not “look down on women”, and had supported the seven women on the 35-member Tokyo 2020 board.
“They hesitated to raise their hand to speak up. I even called out their name to encourage them,” he said.
Praise for Mori As he stepped down, Mori was praised by officials including Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike and the International Olympic Committee.
Mori had helped make Tokyo “the best-ever prepared Olympic city,” IOC chief Thomas Bach said in a statement.
International Paralympic Committee president Andrew Parsons thanked Mori, adding that he hoped reaction to his comments would “be harnessed so that society places greater emphasis on diversity and inclusion.”
The race to fill Mori’s former post now appears wide open, with reports suggesting Olympic Minister Seiko Hashimoto — a former Olympic athlete and one of just two women in Japan’s cabinet — is a leading candidate.
The fallout comes with organisers already battling public doubt about holding the international event this summer.
Around 80 percent of Japanese polled in recent surveys back either further postponement or outright cancellation.
Organisers have tried to quell the disquiet by releasing virus rulebooks, but doubts persist with Tokyo and other regions under a Covid-19 state of emergency.
The emergency declaration will last until February 7 for all regions covered.
Japan expanded a coronavirus state of emergency on Wednesday to seven more regions — including Osaka and Kyoto — and also tightened border restrictions as infections surge nationwide.
The expansion means that from Thursday, 11 of the country’s 47 prefectures will be under the state of emergency — accounting for about 60 percent of its GDP.
While the country’s outbreak remains comparatively small, with around 4,100 deaths overall, there has been a sharp spike in cases this winter and medics say hospitals are under heavy strain in the worst-affected areas.
“We continue to see a serious situation,” Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said, adding that the measures were “indispensable”.
“We must overcome this challenge that we face.”
The month-long state of emergency was implemented in the greater Tokyo area last week.
It asks restaurants and bars to close by 8 pm, with residents urged to avoid unnecessary outings and working from home strongly encouraged.
Although — unlike most places in the world — the law does not currently allow authorities to enforce these requests, the government is planning legislation to fine businesses that do not comply.
The areas affected range from central Aichi, an industrial and commercial hub, to Fukuoka in the southwest, and Osaka, which has reported record new cases in recent days along with neighbouring Kyoto and Hyogo prefectures.
Suga also announced Wednesday that the government would further tighten entry restrictions, which already bar the entry of almost all foreign visitors.
It will now suspend a programme allowing business visits from 11 countries and regions, he said, all but ending the entry of foreigners who are not existing residents.
Late Wednesday, the government also said it would tighten quarantine rules, threatening to name and shame Japanese citizens who violate the measure, and warning it could revoke the residency of foreign nationals who do the same and deport them.
The measures come just over six months before the virus-postponed Tokyo Olympics are due to open.
Suga has insisted he is committed to holding the Games this summer, despite polls showing widespread public opposition.
The powerful typhoon has begun to lash southern Japan with officials warning it could bring record rainfall.
Typhoon Haishen has drawn closer to Japan’s southern mainland, prompting authorities to recommend evacuations and warn of potentially record rainfall, unprecedented wind, high tides and large ocean swells.
Authorities urged early evacuation for more than 100,000 households in the southern prefectures of Okinawa, Kagoshima, Kumamoto, and Nagasaki, according to the Fire and Disaster Management Agency (FDMA).
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Sunday met the relevant cabinet ministers to discuss the emergency response to the typhoon, his office said.
“Maximum caution is needed as record rain, violent winds, high waves and high tides are possible,” he said.
“I ask the Japanese people, including those who live in high-risk areas for flooding rivers or high tides to stay informed and take action immediately to ensure their safety.”
Elderly citizens wearing face masks due to the coronavirus outbreak were slowly gathering at evacuation centres in Kagoshima and other parts of southern Japan, footage on national broadcaster NHK showed.
The typhoon has cut power to more than 3,000 homes in Okinawa, the southernmost island prefecture, and more than 8,000 homes in Amamioshima, according to NHK.
Two injuries have been reported, according to the FDMA, but authorities were advising the highest levels of caution for a typhoon.
The typhoon is forecast to have an atmospheric pressure of 935 hectopascals at its centre, and sustained winds of up to 234 kilometres per hour (145 miles per hour) by Monday, the meteorological agency said.
Haishen, currently equivalent to a strong Category 2 storm, is located about 400km (260 miles) south of Sasebo on the island of Kyushu, moving northwest at 30km/h (20mph).
The storm is expected to pass to the west of Kyushu any time between 12:00-18:00 GMT on Sunday, and is likely to lose some intensity as it hits southwest Japan.
Haishen is expected to be further downgraded by the time it makes landfall with 150km/h (90mph) wind, equivalent to a Category 1 hurricane. It is then forecast to hit the Korean Peninsula early on Monday morning.
High waves lashed the southwest coast of Kagoshima and strong winds rattled street signs, NHK video footage showed.
“I live near a river, and I wanted to go to a safe place and thought about the coronavirus too,” a woman in Miyazaki told NHK after bringing her family to a local hotel.
Airlines have cancelled more than 500 flights departing from Okinawa and southern Japan, NHK said.
Typhoon Haishen follows Typhoon Maysak, which smashed into the Korean Peninsula on Thursday, leaving at least two dead and thousands temporarily without power.
Just a week before Maysak, Typhoon Bavi caused widespread damage and flooding in North Korea.
Japan’s coastguard said one Filipino crew member had so far been found during the search.
Rescuers in Japan were searching on Thursday for a ship carrying 43 crew and nearly 6,000 cattle that was feared sunk after it sent a distress signal during stormy weather in the East China Sea.
Japan’s coastguard said one person had so far been found in a search involving four vessels and several planes.
The rescued crew member, 45-year-old Filipino Sareno Edvarodo, told the coastguard that the Gulf Livestock 1, a 139-metre Panamanian-flagged vessel, capsized after losing an engine.
The cargo ship sent a distress call from the west of Amami Oshima island in southwestern Japan on Wednesday as the region experienced strong winds, heavy seas and torrential rain from Typhoon Maysak as it headed towards the Korean Peninsula.
Japan’s coastguard said P-3C surveillance aircraft spotted Edvarodo, who was the ship’s chief officer, on Wednesday night. He was wearing a life vest and waving while bobbing up and down in the water.
According to Edvarodo, who is able to walk and in good health, the ship lost an engine before it was hit by a wave and capsized, a coastguard spokeswoman said.
When the ship capsized, the crew were instructed to put on lifejackets. Edvarodo said he jumped into the water and did not see any other crew members before he was rescued.
The crew included 39 people from the Philippines, two from New Zealand and two from Australia, the coastguard said. Pictures provided by the agency showed a person in a lifejacket being hauled from choppy seas in darkness.
The Gulf Livestock 1 left Napier in New Zealand on August 14 with 5,867 cattle and 43 crew, bound for the Port of Jingtang in Tangshan, China. The journey was expected to take about 17 days, New Zealand’s foreign ministry told the Reuters news agency.
New Zealand animal rights organisation, Save Animals From Exploitation (SAFE), said the tragedy demonstrated the risks of the live animal export trade.
“These cows should never have been at sea,” said the campaigns manager, Marianne Macdonald.
“This is a real crisis, and our thoughts are with the families of the 43 crew who are missing with the ship. But questions remain, including why this trade is allowed to continue.”
Meanwhile, on the Korean Peninsula, one woman was killed in the South Korean city of Busan when a strong gust of wind shattered her apartment window after Maysak made landfall.
More than 2,200 people were evacuated to temporary shelters, and around 120,000 homes were left without power across southern parts of the peninsula and on Jeju island.
The typhoon also brought heavy downpours across the north, and North Korea’s state media have been carrying live broadcasts of the situation, with one showing a reporter standing in a street inundated with water in the port town of Wonsan.
But authorities lifted their typhoon warning as the storm weakened and moved towards China.
“The typhoon will pass through Musan and leave our country,” a meteorological officer told Korean Central Television. “I don’t expect any effects.”
Liberal Democratic Party members agree to shorten voting process because of COVID-19 pandemic, economic slowdown.
Ordinary members of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party will be excluded from a September 14 vote to choose a successor to Shinzo Abe, the country’s longest-serving prime minister, who is resigning for health reasons, local media reported on Tuesday.
A decision on a shortened voting process that will exclude rank-and-file members has already been approved, and an official announcement from the LDP is expected either later on Tuesday or on Wednesday.
Abe’s chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, is also poised to announce his candidacy as early as Tuesday or Wednesday, making him the likely frontrunner.
Candidates will be required to register their run next Tuesday, September 8, with campaigning to start immediately afterwards.
A leadership contest would usually include ruling party lawmakers and LDP members nationwide.
But the LDP has opted for a constrained format, polling only its MPs and three representatives from each of the country’s 47 prefectures.
The decision has provoked some criticism, but party officials said it would take as long as two months to organise a broader vote, affecting discussions on the budget and coronavirus-related policy-making amid a health crisis that is also weighing down on the economy.
“The prime minister is sick, his illness has re-emerged. He is working hard under very difficult conditions,” Shunichi Suzuki, chairman of the party’s general council, told reporters on Tuesday.
Suga as frontrunner Several candidates have already emerged for the race.
Suga, 71, has held the powerful post of chief cabinet secretary for years – coordinating policy among ministries and agencies, and serving as the effective face of the government as its chief spokesman.
Considered a pragmatist without strong ideological positions, Suga is seen as being close to Abe. He encouraged Abe to run again after his disastrous first term as prime minister ended after just a year in 2007.
According to national broadcaster NHK, support for Suga is increasing among party members, with the largest faction, led by former Chief Cabinet Secretary Hosoda Hiroyuki, expressing its support for him.
The second-largest faction, led by Finance Minister Taro Aso, and the fourth-largest, headed by LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai, have also confirmed that they will endorse Suga, NHK added.
Other candidates are expected to include former Minister of Defense Shigeru Ishiba, who polls well with the general public but is less popular among party members.
A military expert, Ishiba once left the LDP, spending time as both an independent and briefly joining another party.
Many within the LDP have not forgiven him.
Abe – Kishida LDP policy chief Fumio Kishida, a former foreign minister, is also expected to stand.
He is often described as Abe’s favoured successor, but his limited public profile and low-key persona are likely to pose obstacles.
Abe announced his shock decision to step down on August 28, explaining he was suffering a recurrence of ulcerative colitis, a chronic condition that has plagued him for years.
He is Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, but has seen his government’s approval ratings sink in recent months with the public unimpressed by his handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
The race to succeed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe kicked off informally on Saturday, with several contenders announcing their plans to stand; a day after Japan’s longest-serving leader announced his resignation.
Abe said he was suffering a recurrence of ulcerative colitis, the condition that forced him to cut short his first term in office, but that he would stay on until his successor is decided.
Exactly how the process will unfold was still unclear, with local media reporting on Saturday that several options were being considered.
Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party could opt for a more traditional leadership election, involving lawmakers but also members of the party nationwide.
But the urgency of the situation, as well as the constraints imposed by the coronavirus outbreak, could see the party instead opt to poll only its lawmakers and regional representatives — a faster process.
A decision on how the election will be held, and when, is expected early next week, along with more clarity on who will stand for the post.
A few would-be candidates have already thrown their hats into the ring, including party policy chief Fumio Kishida, a mild-mannered former foreign minister considered Abe’s personal choice for successor, and ex-defense minister Shigeru Ishiba, who is seen as more popular with voters but commands less party support than some other candidates.
Finance Minister Taro Aso, himself a former prime minister and long considered a likely successor to Abe, has announced he will not stand.
Other possible candidates include powerful chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga, viewed by many as a frontrunner, and current defence minister Taro Kono, a social-media-savvy former foreign minister who is seen as something of a longshot.
One woman is among those expected to stand so far: Seiko Noda, a former cabinet minister whose chances are thought to be slim.
No Drastic Changes Whoever comes out on top, analysts said, little major shift in policy is expected.
“Key policies –- diplomacy and economic measures — won’t be changed drastically,” Shinichi Nishikawa, a professor of political science at Meiji University in Tokyo, told AFP.
“His successor could be a caretaker,” effectively, Nishikawa added, given that the LDP will hold another leadership election in September 2021, with general elections likely the following month.
Yoshinobu Yamamoto, an honorary professor of international politics at the University of Tokyo, said Abe’s successor would not produce any surprises but would face “big challenges”.
Most immediate will be the ongoing response to the coronavirus pandemic, with heavy criticism of Abe’s government so far for policies viewed as contradictory and slow.
But there are also diplomatic challenges on the horizon, including on relations with China.
Ties had been warming, but with rising tensions between Beijing and Washington and concerns domestically about issues including the coronavirus outbreak and the situation in Hong Kong, the next prime minister faces a balancing act.
Abe is also leaving office with the issue of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics still unresolved. The Games were postponed by a year over the pandemic and are now scheduled to open in July 2021, but questions remain about whether the event can be held safely.
And the next prime minister will inherit an economy that had swung into recession even before the coronavirus crisis hit and may face further hits if additional waves of infection force business shutdowns again this winter.
Tokyo markets slumped on Friday on news of Abe’s resignation but recovered slightly before the end of trade, and economists said disruption would be minimal because the economic policy was not likely to change.
“We believe the current monetary easing policies and expansionary fiscal policies will continue for the duration of the Covid-19 pandemic,” wrote Naoya Oshikubo, senior economist at SuMi TRUST.
“Thus the impact on the market should be limited in the mid-to-long term.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Friday she “regrets” the resignation of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on health grounds, hailing his “fight for multilateralism”.
Merkel said she and her fellow veteran leader in the Group of Seven industrialised nations had a “shared foundation of values”.
“I, of course, regret his resignation and wish him all the best for his health,” she told reporters. “We always worked very, very well together… He was always someone who committed himself to the fight for multilateralism.”
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced Friday he will resign over health problems, in a development that kicks off a leadership contest in the world’s third-largest economy.
“I have decided to step down from the post of the prime minister,” he told a press conference, saying he was suffering from a recurrence of the ulcerative colitis that ended his first term in office.
Abe said he was receiving a new treatment for the condition, which needed to be administered on a regular basis which would not leave him with sufficient time to discharge his duties.
“Now that I am not able to fulfil the mandate from the people with confidence, I have decided that I should no longer occupy the position of the prime minister.”
Abe is expected to stay in office until his ruling Liberal Democratic Party can choose a successor, in an election likely to take place among the party’s lawmakers and members.
There is no clear consensus on who will succeed him, with likely candidates including Finance Minister Taro Aso and chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga.
Abe, who stepped down as prime minister just one year into his first term, in 2007, offered his apologies for the second resignation.
“I would like to sincerely apologise to the people of Japan for leaving my post with one year left in my term of office, and amid the coronavirus woes, while various policies are still in the process of being implemented,” Abe said, bowing deeply.
Japan is sending a second team of experts to help clean up more than 1,000 tonnes of oil that leaked from a Japanese-owned bulk carrier into pristine waters off the coast of Mauritius.
The decision came as the Mauritian government vowed to seek compensation from the ship’s owner and insurer for “all losses and damages” related to the disaster.
Tokyo has already dispatched one team of six experts, including a coast guard expert and diplomats, to aid in the response.
The new team of seven experts is due to leave Japan on Wednesday and will carry materials such as a sorbent to help clean up the oil, Japan’s embassy in Mauritius said in a statement Monday.
“The oil spill has caused serious damage over the South East coastal environment of Mauritius and will have an inevitable impact on the country’s tourism industry as well,” the statement said.
“Japan has decided to dispatch the team out of comprehensive and holistic consideration of all circumstances, including the request of urgent assistance from the Government of the Republic of Mauritius and the friendly relationship between the two countries,” it said.
The MV Wakashio ran aground on a coral reef on July 25 and began oozing oil more than a week later.
Both the Mauritian and Japanese governments have come under fire for not doing more immediately to prevent a large-scale spill.
Japanese firm Nagashiki, the ship’s owner, has pledged to “sincerely” respond to requests for compensation over damage to the marine environment.
The ship split in half over the weekend, and a portion of it remains stranded on the reef.
Thousands of Mauritians volunteered day and night to clean the powder-blue waters that have long attracted honeymooners and tourists before the clean-up operation was fully handed over to experts.
Greenpeace has termed the spill the “worst ecological disaster” in the country’s history, threatening wetlands that boast rare mangrove forests and scores of fish and coral species.
Japan is not the only country to send aid.
A 10-member team from India’s coast guard arrived in Mauritius on Sunday with 28 tonnes of equipment including booms, barges and skimmers.
And on Monday, Sebastien Lecornu, France’s minister for overseas territories, said Paris would send three experts to help Mauritius determine what to do with the wreck.
France had already sent military planes, ships and equipment to help contain the oil spill, which also threatens the French island of La Reunion southwest of Mauritius.
Japan on Thursday marks 75 years since the world’s first atomic bomb attack, with the coronavirus pandemic forcing a scaling back of ceremonies to commemorate the victims.
Survivors, relatives and a handful of foreign dignitaries will attend this year’s main event in Hiroshima to pray for the victims and call for world peace.
But the general public will be kept away, with the ceremony instead broadcast online.
Other events, including a gathering to float lanterns along the Motoyasu River, have been cancelled as coronavirus cases spike in parts of Japan.
The annual commemoration is “Hiroshima’s mission of calling on people across the world to work towards peace”, mayor Kazumi Matsui told reporters.
Participants will offer a silent prayer at 8:15 am (2315 GMT Wednesday), the exact time the first nuclear weapon deployed in wartime hit the city.
Around 140,000 people were killed, many of them instantly, with others perishing in the weeks and months that followed, suffering radiation sickness, devastating burns and other injuries.
Three days later the United States dropped a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki, where 74,000 people were killed.
‘Unspeakable horror’ The historical assessment of the bombings remains subject to some controversy. The United States has never apologised for the bombings, which many in the US see as having ended the war.
Japan announced its surrender just days later on August 15, 1945, and some historians argue the bombings ultimately saved lives by avoiding a land invasion that might have been significantly more deadly.
But in Japan, the attacks are widely regarded as war crimes because they targeted civilians indiscriminately and caused unprecedented destruction.
In 2016, Barack Obama became the first sitting US president to visit Hiroshima, where he offered no apology but embraced survivors and called for a world free of nuclear weapons.
Hiroshima and Nagasaki were key stops on Pope Francis’s first trip to Japan last year, where he denounced the “unspeakable horror” of the attacks.
At Thursday’s ceremony, Hiroshima’s mayor and a representative of bereaved families will deliver remarks in front of a cenotaph inscribed with the names of victims.
Volunteers will then livestream a tour of buildings affected by the bombing, and share testimonies by two atomic bomb survivors as part of efforts to mark the anniversary despite the virus.
The pandemic stalking the globe carries an all-too-familiar fear for some survivors, including 83-year-old Keiko Ogura, who lived through the Hiroshima bombing.
With the outbreak of the virus, “I recall the fear I felt right after the bombing,” she told journalists last month.
“No one can escape.”
‘Solidarity among mankind’ The global nature of the threat requires a global solution, she said.
“Whether it’s the coronavirus or nuclear weapons, the way to overcome it is through solidarity among mankind.”
The landmark anniversary this year underscores the dwindling number of bomb survivors, known in Japan as “hibakusha”.
Those who remain were mostly infants or young children at the time, and their work to keep the memory of the bombings alive and call for a ban on nuclear weapons has taken on increasing urgency as they age.
Activists and survivors have created archives of everything from the recorded testimony of hibakusha to their poems and drawings.
But many fear interest in the bombings is fading as they recede beyond the horizon of lived experience and into history.
“Just storing a pile of records… is meaningless,” said Kazuhisa Ito, the secretary general of the Hibakusha Assembly of Memory Heritage, an NGO that compiles records and documents from survivors.
“What we want is to engage young people with this issue and exchange views with them, globally,” he told AFP.
Japan will deploy more troops to search for survivors of devastating floods and landslides that have killed at least 52 people in the southwest of the country, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged Tuesday.
Even as rescue operations continued, with 80,000 personnel already involved and more expected to join, authorities warned that more torrential rain was expected.
Japan’s Meteorological Agency issued its second-highest emergency warning for heavy rain and landslides over vast swathes of the country’s southwest and said “risks are rising” nationwide.
The heavy rain has caused rivers to burst their banks and sweep away bridges, while landslides have destroyed roads and buried houses, complicating access for rescuers battling to save lives.
At least 52 deaths have been confirmed in the rains that began Saturday across the worst-hit island of Kyushu, local officials said. But with around a dozen people still missing, there were fears the toll would rise further.
Government spokesman Yoshihide Suga warned that rain was forecast to continue over the next two days.
“Even a small amount of rainfall could cause a disaster. I would like people to be on full alert against landslides and floods,” he said.
In the hardest-hit region of Kumamoto, on the southwest tip of Japan, disaster management official Yutaro Hamasaki said: “We are racing against time.”
“We have not set any deadline or time to end the operation, but we really need to speed up our search as time is running out. We won’t give up til the end,” Hamasaki told AFP.
Abe said he would double the number of troops deployed in rescue and relief operations to 20,000, as rescuers try to reach people trapped in homes and schools.
In one school in Omuta city, dozens of children and their teachers spent a desperate night on the upper floor after the ground level flooded.
“Shoe cupboards on the group floor were swept away and shoes were floating around,” an 11-year-old girl told a local newspaper after rescuers arrived.
“Some children were sobbing because they were worried about not being able to get home and were afraid of the heavy rain.”
Locals including Kentaro Oishi, who owns a rafting business in the hot springs resort of Hitoyoshi, were drafted in to help.
“I have 20 years of rafting experience, but I never dreamed” of rowing the boat through the city, he told AFP.
“To tell you the truth, I was so scared at first when I saw the water levels rising so rapidly in the river.”
‘Filled with water’ Fourteen of the dead were wheelchair-bound residents of a nursing home unable to escape to higher ground as the waters rose.
A rescue worker who searched the facility told NHK: “The ground floor was filled with water and we couldn’t get into it. Some people managed to evacuate to the first floor. I’ve never experienced anything like this in my life.”
Further complicating evacuation efforts was the fear of spreading the coronavirus.
Japan has been relatively lightly affected by the pandemic, with just under 20,000 cases and fewer than 1,000 deaths.
But the need to maintain social distancing has reduced capacity at shelters, despite authorities issuing non-mandatory evacuation orders for 1.27 million people across Kyushu.
In Yatsushiro city, authorities converted a local gymnasium into a shelter, with cardboard walls separating families to limit the spread of the virus.
According to local media, some people were sleeping in their cars rather than risk possible infection at a shelter.
The disaster has also compounded problems for businesses already hard hit by the pandemic.
“The damage was beyond our imagination. It’s literally a bolt from the blue,” said Yuji Hashimoto, who runs a tourism bureau in Yatsushiro.
“Our hot spring resort was struggling to weather the impact of coronavirus. We don’t know what will happen to us next,” he told AFP.
Japan is in the middle of its annual rainy season, which frequently unleashes deadly floods and landslides. Climate change has intensified the risks of heavy rains, because a warmer atmosphere holds more water.
In 2018, more than 200 people died in devastating floods in the same region of Japan.
Fourteen people were feared dead at a nursing home in western Japan Saturday as record rainfall triggered massive floods and landslides, forcing authorities to issue evacuation advisories for more than 200,000 residents.
The victims were found “in cardio-respiratory arrest” at the facility for elderly people that was flooded after a nearby river broke its banks, governor Ikuo Kabashima from the western region of Kumamoto told reporters.
Authorities in Japan often use that term before a doctor officially certifies death.
“The Self-Defence Forces have launched rescue operations,” Kabashima said, adding that three others at the home were suffering from hypothermia.
Some 60 to 70 people were in the home as water rushed in to the second floor Saturday morning, public broadcaster NHK said.
Local officials separately said another person was also found in cardio-respiratory arrest in landslides in Kumamoto. They had previously said two were feared dead.
Elsewhere in Kumamoto, one person was seriously injured and nine others were missing while about 100 people were stranded as roads were cut off by floods and landslides, NHK reported.
The nation’s weather agency downgraded rain warnings by one notch from the highest emergency level in Kumamoto and nearby Kagoshima, but Prime Minister Shinzo Abe urged local people to be “on maximum alert”.
Abe ordered 10,000 troops on stand-by for immediate deployment to join rescue and recovery operations, pledging the central government would “do its best to take emergency measures, prioritising people’s lives”.
It’s So Scary Television footage showed vehicles swamped at car parks near a flooding river, while several bridges were washed away.
“I can’t evacuate as a road turned into a river. It’s so scary,” a female resident told NHK.
Haruka Yamada, a 32-year-old local resident, told Kyodo News: “I saw large trees and parts of houses being washed away and heard them crashing into something. The air is filled with the smell of leaking gas and sewage.”
Aerial footage showed a resident being lifted with a rope from a roof to a military helicopter as an entire town was awash with muddy water.
A massive landslide destroyed several houses with rescuers searching for missing people through half-buried windows.
“We have issued evacuation orders after record heavy rain,” said Toshiaki Mizukami, another official for Kumamoto prefecture.
“We strongly urge people to take action to protect their lives as it’s still raining quite heavily,” he told AFP.
Kyodo said more than 203,000 residents in Kumamoto and Kagoshima were advised to evacuate their homes.
Some train services have been suspended in the region, while more than 8,000 households lost power.
Japan is currently in its rainy season, which often causes floods and landslides and prompts local authorities to issue evacuation orders.
Japan was poised to lift its nationwide state of emergency over the coronavirus on Monday, gradually reopening the world’s third-biggest economy after new cases slowed to a crawl.
Compared with hard-hit areas in Europe, the United States, Russia and Brazil, Japan has been spared the worst of the pandemic, with 16,581 cases in total and 830 deaths.
Yet with infections threatening to run out of control, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared an initial state of emergency for Tokyo and six other regions on April 7 — later expanding it to cover the entire country.
Businesses and schools were urged to shut and people were requested to remain home but Japan‘s “lockdown” was far softer than in other parts of the world and there was no punishment for anyone flouting the rules.
Citizens largely heeded the orders, with most of Tokyo’s famously packed streets falling quiet, and the number of new infections has fallen from a peak of around 700 per day to just a few dozen nationally.
“It was acknowledged that the state of emergency measure was not necessary for all the prefectures and the declaration for lifting (the state of emergency) was approved,” said Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister in charge of the virus response.
Abe was expected to confirm the decision formally at a news conference at 6 pm (0900 GMT).
There does not appear to be one single reason why the pandemic has hit Japan as hard as other comparable countries, and trying to pinpoint possible causes has become a favourite sport on social media.
High levels of hygiene and general health, removing shoes indoors, widespread masks, bowing as a greeting rather than shaking hands or kissing: all have been advanced as possible reasons but analysts agree there has been no silver bullet.
– Recession and deflation –
Japan has come under fire for a relatively low level of testing with around 270,000 carried out, the lowest per capita rate in the group of seven advanced economies, according to Worldometer.
But Japanese authorities insist that mass testing was never their strategy, as cases remained low enough to rely on aggressive contact tracing to contain clusters.
Nevertheless, testing has been ramped up in recent weeks as authorities warn of a possible next wave of the virus that could overwhelm their previous strategy.
Medical facilities are also being boosted after horror stories of coronavirus victims being unable to find a suitable hospital bed — mainly for administrative reasons as only certain establishments are designated to deal with the virus.
Although the human toll has been less severe than in other parts of the world, the economy — already struggling from the effects of natural disasters and a consumption tax hike — has suffered.
The world’s third-largest economy has plunged into its first recession since 2015, data published last week showed, shrinking by 0.9 percent in the first quarter.
With economic activity slowing to a crawl, the spectre of deflation is looming again, with consumer prices in March logging their first drop in more than three years.
In a bid to stem the damage, Abe has ordered a mass handout of 100,000 yen ($930) per person, part of a stimulus package worth around $1 trillion.
Coronavirus has also taken its toll politically, with polls showing support for Abe falling rapidly — a recent survey for the Asahi Shimbun suggested backing had dropped to 29 percent, the lowest since he took office in 2012.
He performed a rare U-turn on the cash handouts — initially announcing an entirely different policy — and is seen to have bungled another signature move involving the distribution of two masks per household, which attracted widespread mockery.
Japan is expected to decide on Thursday to lift the nationwide state of emergency in many of its prefectures after the number of new coronavirus cases fell in recent days.
It is likely to be lifted in 39 of Japan’s 47 prefectures ahead of the scheduled expiry on May 31, while metropolitan areas such as Tokyo and Osaka will remain under the measure, local media reported.
Japan confirmed 55 new cases on Wednesday, falling below 100 for the fourth day in a row, broadcaster NHK reported.
The country has so far reported 16,815 cases, including 712 on a cruise ship quarantined near Tokyo in February and 709 deaths from the COVID-19 respiratory disease caused by the virus, according to an NHK tally.
However, critics say the actual number of cases could be as much as 10 times higher and say Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government failed to boost testing capabilities.
The government did not appear to discuss how many tests the country needs in order to lift the emergency now.
Japan has conducted only 1.77 tests per 1,000 people, compared with South Korea’s 13.28 and New Zealand’s 40.87, according to Our World in Data, a research group at the University of Oxford.
In early April, Abe declared a one-month state of emergency for seven urban prefectures such as Tokyo and Osaka.
A week later the emergency was expanded to the whole country.
Hong Kong will ban all non-residents from entering the financial hub from midnight on Tuesday evening in a bid to halt the coronavirus, its leader said Monday, as she ordered restaurants and bars to stop serving alcohol.
Despite its proximity to the Chinese mainland, the financial hub has managed to stave off a runaway outbreak of the deadly virus partly thanks to the public overwhelmingly embracing face masks, hand hygiene and social distancing.
Yet in the last two weeks, the number of cases has more than doubled to 318 infections after locals and foreign residents flooded back once the pandemic spread to Europe and North America.
On Monday chief executive Carrie Lam announced a raft of measures designed to stymie the rising number of infections.
“From midnight of March 25, all non-Hong Kong residents flying in from overseas will not be allowed into the city,” she said, adding the order would be in place for at least two weeks.
The city’s airport — the eighth busiest in the world — would also bar all transit passengers, Lam added.
Some 8,600 restaurants and bars with a license will also be banned from selling alcohol but will, for now, be allowed to remain open.
Lam did not specify when the booze ban would be brought in, but said emergency legislation was being drafted.
Health officials had become increasingly alarmed about people gathering in large numbers in the city’s entertainment districts in recent weeks.
Last week, a slew of infections was found among patients who had all been out in Lan Kwai Fong, the city’s most famous nightclub street.
Restaurant groups had urged the government to allow them to remain open
The Federal government has released N620 million for the fight against coronavirus.
Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed, in a statement released on Friday March 6th, said the approval and release of the funds by President Buhari was based on emergency.
She said the first tranche of N364 million was earlier released, making a total of N984 million released to tackle the spread of the virus in the country.
“The approval by President Muhammadu Buhari for the release of funds to tackle COVID-19 was an emergency and the process of releasing the fund was also an emergency as it was an unexpected expenditure,” the statement read.
“However, the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning had released the first tranche of N364 million sometime ago and the process of releasing the second tranche has been concluded with the release of N620 million this morning, bringing total release to N984 million.
“Responding to a media enquiry yesterday, the Honourable Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, promised that the second tranche of the needed fund would be released today, which has been done, keeping to the promise.” she said
Nigeria recorded its first case of the virus on February 24th.
Jackie Chan, award-winning Hong Kong actor, has assured his numerous fans that he is safe and not under quarantine amid concerns of the deadly coronavirus.
In a post on his social media page, the veteran actor disclosed that he was informed by one of his staff that there had been widespread rumours of him being quarantined for the virus.
He also said that such rumours making the rounds have fetched him several donations from several quarters.
While appreciating his fans for their gestures, the 65-year-old, however, noted he is healthy and safe from the virus.
“Thanks for everybody’s concern! I’m safe and sound, and very healthy. Please don’t worry, I’m not in quarantine. I hope everyone stays safe and healthy too!” he told his over 3 million Instagram followers.
Chan also took to his official website to issue a more detailed statement.
“Recently, my staff told me about the news that’s been circulating around the world, saying that I’ve been placed under quarantine for COVID-19,” he wrote.
“Firstly, I’d like to take this opportunity to say “thank you” for everybody’s concern! I’m very healthy and safe, and haven’t been quarantined. I’ve received many messages from friends asking if I’m ok. Your love and concern is so heartwarming. Thank you!”
He added that he has already asked his staff to distribute the face masks and other gifts sent to him to organisations that need such.
“I’ve also received some very special gifts from fans all over the world during this very difficult time. Thank you for the face masks,” he added.
“Your thoughtfulness is well received! And I’ve asked my lovely staff to donate your kindness through official organisations to those who need it most.”
The deadly virus has been ravaging several countries across the globe, with Nigeria recording its first case on Friday.