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Japan keeps high coronavirus alert as more citizens return from China

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan evacuated more citizens from the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak on Monday, while the disease’s spread prompted a hospital to stop accepting new patients and raised the possibility of restricting participants at next month’s Tokyo Marathon.

A fifth government-chartered flight carrying 65 Japanese arrived in Tokyo from Wuhan, China, early on Monday, bringing the total number repatriated from the city to 763, broadcaster NHK reported.

With more than 400 people infected, most of whom are passengers on a cruise ship docked in Yokohama, Japan is the country most affected by the epidemic behind China, where the outbreak was first detected in December and which has now killed more than 1,700 people.

A hospital in Sagamihara, 50km (31 miles) west of Tokyo, said it would suspend admissions of new patients as one of its nurses tested positive for the virus after treating a patient who later died of the disease.

The widening fallout is damaging output and tourism in Japan, undermining growth and potentially pushing the country into recession, analysts say.

The risk that cases in Japan may increase is threatening to limit one of the world’s biggest marathons, scheduled for March 1.

Organizers of the Tokyo Marathon are considering restricting the number of general participants in this year’s race as a precaution against the further spread of infection, the Asahi newspaper reported, citing unnamed sources.

Marathon organizers were not immediately available for comment.

Trimming down the size of the marathon, which has more than 300,000 entrants this year, would be the latest effect on an international sporting event in Japan due to the virus.

The FIBA Asia Cup 2021 has postponed a qualifying basketball match between Japan and China, which was initially scheduled to be held in Chiba, near Tokyo, later this week.

As hundreds of passengers prepare to be evacuated from the quarantined cruise ship, one member of the testing team from Japan’s health ministry has tested positive for the disease, the ministry said.

Companies are stepping up measures to prevent the spread of the virus, SARS-CoV-2 as the number of infections in the country ticks up daily. A growing number of cases have been reported in people who have neither visited China nor have had direct contact with people arriving from the country.

Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp, one of Japan’s biggest companies, said it was urging its roughly 200,000 group-wide employees to work from home or stagger their commutes.

On Friday, NTT Data Corp said an external employee who works at one of its buildings was confirmed with the coronavirus. The company had ordered 14 workers who had come into close contact with this person to work at home, it said.

Reporting by Naomi Tajitsu, additional reporting by Noriyuki Hirata and Chang-Ran Kim; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Gerry Doyle

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