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Mask-wearing robots greet COVID-19 patients in Japan hotels

Hotels in Japan's Tokyo that have started housing coronavirus patients are using mask-wearing robots to greet the visitors. Named "Pepper", it tells the patients, "Please, wear a mask inside," and, "I hope you recover as quickly as possible."

Robot staff debuted at a Tokyo hotel used for mildly sick coronavirus patients under a new plan to free up beds at hospitals overburdened with more severe cases. Pepper, a talking robot, greets new guests at the lobby, while Whiz, a cleaning robot, operates in areas where patients pick up meals and other daily necessities to reduce infection risks for human staff.

Pepper, wearing a white surgical mask, greeted Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike as she walked into the hotel during Friday’s demonstration. Pepper also reminds patients to check their temperature and rest well. Guests can also access health management applications on computers and tablets to record their temperatures and symptoms.

The robots, made by SoftBank Robotics, will also be deployed at other hotels rented by Tokyo’s metropolitan government for patients with no or mild symptoms. So far, Tokyo has secured five hotels and aims to increase the number of rooms from the current 1,500 to 2,800.

The hotels are also staffed by doctors and nurses, but officials hope the robots can cheer up an otherwise lonely time for guests who are isolated in single rooms for their weekslong stay. Japan has 14,281 confirmed cases, with 432 deaths, according to the health ministry.

In other developments around the Asia-Pacific region: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Friday that the coronavirus state of emergency that is scheduled to end next week will continue for roughly another month.

Abe, citing a report by a government task force, said the country’s medical system is still under severe pressure even though Japan has averted an explosion of infections as occurred in many other countries. “We still need you to continue cooperating, and that’s the experts’ view,” Abe said.

The state of emergency is voluntary and only requests social distancing and remote work rather than orders that actions be taken.

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