Japanese Comedian Ken Shimura Tests Positive for Coronavirus

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The 70-year-old actor and comedy icon, beloved for his satirical characters, is the first major Japanese celebrity to go public with a COVID-19 diagnosis.

Japanese comedy icon Ken Shimura has tested positive for the new coronavirus, his agency said Wednesday in Tokyo.

The 70-year-old actor and comedian was hospitalized last Friday for what was thought to be a severe case of pneumonia. Shimura's agency told Japan's Kyodo news service Wednesday that his COVID-19 symptoms were currently noncritical. It was not immediately known how he became infected.

Shimura, a household name in Japan and a near-constant presence on local variety shows, is the first major entertainment figure in the country to go public with their coronavirus infection. He is famous across generations in Japan for his satirical characters "Baka Tonosama" (foolish lord) and "Henna Ojisan" (weirdo uncle).

Shimura was booked to star in Yoji Yamada's upcoming feature film God of Cinema, backed by Japanese studio Shochiku to mark its 100-year anniversary. The film, based on the Japanese book The Name Above the Title, was set to go into production in early April, but was put on pause indefinitely Wednesday.

Japan has been something of an outlier of the global coronavirus pandemic. Despite its proximity to China and busy travel links between the two countries, Japan has reported just 1,211 coronavirus infections and 51 fatalities (not including the infections found aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship that arrived on the coast of Yokohama). But Tuesday, the country reported 71 new infections, its highest daily uptick to date, prompting Tokyo's governor, Yuriko Koike, to say that a citywide lockdown may become "the only option" to prevent an explosive spread of the virus in the Japanese capital.

On Tuesday, Japanese prime minister ended weeks of speculation by announcing that the 2020 Tokyo Olympics would be postponed by approximately one year in response to the global coronavirus crisis.