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Covid-19: Asian shares climb, Tokyo gains on hopes for reopening

Asian shares are mostly higher, with Tokyo stocks gaining on expectations that a pandemic state of emergency will be lifted for all of Japan.

But shares fell in Hong Kong on Monday after police used tear gas to quell weekend protests over a proposed national security bill for the former British colony.

US markets will be closed for Memorial Day.

Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 added 1.5% in morning trading to 20,682.78. South Korea’s Kospi gained 0.6% to 1,981.92. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 jumped 1.4% to 5,572.30.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng dropped 1.2% to 22,659.62. The Shanghai Composite was little changed, edging 0.1% higher to 2,815.94.

The protests in Hong Kong, in response to legislation under discussion by China’s National People’s Congress, which is now meeting in Beijing, were the largest in months despite bans on large gathering meant to prevent spreading the coronavirus.

The revival of sometimes violent pro-democracy protests that rocked the city for much of 2019 raises the likelihood of more tensions between Beijing and Washington over China’s efforts to exert more control over the semi-autonomous territory.

“With more riots in the street amid the knockdown effects of Covid-19 and a possible exodus of jobs from the city’s financial center, surely things will get much worse before better,” Stephen Innes of AxiCorp said in a commentary.

Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, was expected to announced later Monday that the state of emergency imposed to fight the pandemic will end nationwide after a panel of experts approved the plan.

Japan has been gradually relaxing calls for people to stay home and for some businesses to stay closed as reports of confirmed cases of Covid-19 and related deaths have declined. Japan has reported about 820 deaths and more than 16,000 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, relatively few compared to hard-hit nations like the U.S.

The prime minister’s announcement is set to come after markets close, but the move is already being factored in. Some department stores and restaurants have already reopened, including in Tokyo, where the emergency is technically still in place.

Although people are wearing masks and having their temperatures taken at the doors of some public places, fears persist that a resumption of normal economic activity and fewer social distancing precautions will bring on a resurgence of infections.

Wall Street ended the week with a gain. The S&P 500 index inched up 0.2% to to 2,955.45. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gave up less than 0.1% to 24,465.16. The Nasdaq composite added 39.71 points, or 0.4%, to 9,324.59.

Despite the uneven finish, the three major stock indexes each ended the week more than 3% higher, while the Russell 2000 index of small company stocks jumped 7.8% for the week. On Friday, the Russell 2000 gained 0.6% to 1,355.53.

Fresh hopes for a US economic recovery in the second half of the year and optimism about a potential vaccine for Covid-19 helped spur stocks higher for much of the week. Investors are betting, despite concerns over the risks of reigniting outbreaks of the virus, that the economy and corporate profits will begin to recover from the pandemic as the US and countries around the world slowly open up again.

In other trading Monday, benchmark US crude oil picked up 2 cents to $33.27 a barrel. It fell 2%, or 67 cents, to $33.25 a barrel on Friday. Brent crude oil, the international standard, fell 22 cents to $34.91 a barrel.

Crude oil started the year at about $60 a barrel and then plummeted as demand sank due to widespread travel and business shutdowns related to the coronavirus.

The US dollar inched up to 107.72 Japanese yen from 107.63 yen late Friday. The euro inched down to $1.0892 from $1.0901.

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