March 5, 2020 / 2:28 AM / in a month

Japan stocks track Wall Street higher, but virus worries weigh

* Tracking the coronavirus: tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7

* Healthcare sector shines on virus drug development

* Stocks still have downside risks due to coronavirus

By Stanley White

TOKYO, March 5 (Reuters) - Japanese shares rose on Thursday, tracking Wall Street as Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden's strong showing in primaries and positive U.S. economic data bolstered investor sentiment amid increasing cases of the coronavirus.

The Nikkei index climbed 1.14% to 21,339.71 by 0142 GMT, with healthcare and industrial stocks leading the advance.

Biden is now leading the race for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination, and his economic policies are considered more benign than his main rivals.

Investor sentiment also improved after U.S. data on Wednesday showed strong private sector hiring and robust growth in the services sector.

However, many investors warned that the recent equity sell-off due to the global spread of the coronavirus could quickly return because the flu-like illness has not yet been contained.

The virus emerged in China late last year but has since spread to dozens of countries and caused more than 3,000 deaths.

Infections in Japan have topped 200, with six deaths. That excludes more than 700 cases and five more deaths from the quarantined cruise liner.

There were 166 advancers on the Nikkei index against 51 decliners on Thursday.

Takeda Pharmaceutical Co Ltd rose 3.67% after the company said it was developing a drug for the virus. This helped other healthcare stocks gain as well.

The largest percentage gainers in the index were food and drug maker Meiji Holdings Co Ltd, up 4.39%, followed by Hitachi Construction Machinery Co Ltd, gaining 4.16%, and drug maker Kyowa Kirin Co Ltd, up by 3.91%.

The largest percentage losers in the index were materials producer Teijin Ltd, down 1.55%, followed by Nissan Motor Co Ltd, losing 1.43%, and Suzuki Motor Corp , down by 1.24%.

Some traders now await the U.S. non-farm payrolls data due on Friday to check the health of the world's largest economy.

The broader Topix index rose 0.95% to 1,516.69.

The volume of shares traded on the Tokyo Stock Exchange's main board was 0.44 billion, compared to the average 1.36 billion in the past 30 days. (Editing by Subhranshu Sahu)

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