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The government on Thursday set up a special task force to combat the spread of the coronavirus, clearing an important prerequisite toward any declaration of a state of emergency.

The decision reflects a recent surge of COVID-19 patients, particularly in Tokyo, which on Thursday reported more than 45 new cases, its biggest one-day jump so far. It also sends a dire signal to the rest of the country that Japan needs to brace for a potential “explosive” increase of cases like that seen in Europe and elsewhere, as feared by health care officials.

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