• Kyodo

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Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said there are still about 1,100 Japanese nationals around the world who want to return home amid the coronavirus pandemic and that the government will do everything it can to help them.

"We're approaching local authorities about the early return of people who remain (overseas) and are discussing which way would be most appropriate," Motegi said during an online event organized Monday by Kyodo News. "We'll keep doing our best."

Among the Japanese nationals are around 350 people who are expected to return before the end of the month, but there are currently no concrete plans covering the rest, Motegi said.

Addressing the impact of the virus on the Japanese and world economies, Motegi said the situation is "extremely serious" and that the global economy is "facing the biggest crisis" since World War II.

"The march of globalization has allowed virus infections to spread rapidly, shedding light on the vulnerability of modern society," he said.

The pandemic will offer an opportunity to "confirm the importance of international collaboration in this age of spreading protectionism," as well as opportunities to "encourage innovation" and "promote the digitization of society" in the process of riding out the crisis, he said.

Motegi also took a hard look at Japan's early handling of the domestic spread of COVID-19, saying officials may have focused too much on unprecedented issues related to the Diamond Princess, the cruise ship quarantined in Yokohama in February.

"The flag state of the ship was Britain, while it was operated by a U.S. company and it was visiting Japan. There were no established rules for which one bore primary responsibility in such a situation under international law," said Motegi, calling the situation "a tall order no other countries had experienced."

The Diamond Princess was carrying about 3,700 passengers and crew from 56 countries and regions when it arrived in Yokohama in early February. Among them, over 700, including 13 people who died, tested positive for COVID-19.

The daily number of new coronavirus infections in Japan has increased sharply, especially in Tokyo, which has been seeing over 100 new cases per day recently, with Japan's total topping 11,000 excluding the cruise ship passengers and crew.

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