Japan expands virus emergency after record spikes amid Games

Coronavirus

People wearing face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus walk across a shopping alley near Ueno Station in Tokyo Friday, July 30, 2021. Japan is set to expand the coronavirus state of emergency in Tokyo to neighboring areas and the western city of Osaka on Friday in the wake of a record-breaking surge in infections while the capital hosts the Olympics. (AP Photo/Kantaro Komiya)

Japan expanded a coronavirus state of emergency to four more areas in addition to Tokyo on Friday following record spikes in infections as the capital hosts the Olympics.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declared an emergency in Saitama, Kanagawa and Chiba, near Tokyo, as well as in the western city of Osaka, effective Monday until Aug. 31. Emergency measures already in place in Tokyo will be extended until the end of August, after the Olympics and well into the Paralympics which start Aug. 24.

Tokyo has reported a record increase in cases for three days in a row, including 3,865 on Thursday, before logging another 3,300 on Friday. The cases have doubled since last week, although officials say the surge is unrelated to the Olympics.

Officials said 2,995 were hospitalized, about half the current capacity of 6,000 beds, with some hospitals already full. More than 10,000 others were isolating at home or designated hotels, with nearly 5,600 waiting at home while health centers decide where they will be treated. Tokyo is also setting up a facility for those requiring oxygen while waiting for hospital beds.

At Friday’s meeting of government experts, Health Minister Norihisa Tamura said the spike in Tokyo despite being under the state of emergency for two weeks is an “alarming development that is different from anything we have seen before.”

Nationwide, Japan reported 10,687 confirmed cases Thursday, exceeding 10,000 for the first time. It has recorded 15,166 fatalities from COVID-19, including 2,288 in Tokyo, since the pandemic began.

Japan has kept its cases and deaths lower than many other countries, but its seven-day rolling average is growing and now stands at 28 per 100,000 people nationwide and 88 per 100,000 in Tokyo, according to the Health Ministry. This compares to 18.5 in the United States, 48 in Britain and 2.8 in India, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

The emergency measures focus on an alcohol ban at eateries and karaoke bars and their shortened hours, but they have become less effective because people are only requested to stay and work from home. Many were defying the measures as they have become tired of restrictive life and less cooperative even at a time when the more infectious delta strain is spreading.

“We need to come up with measures that are effective,” Tokyo Gov Yuriko Koike told a regular news conference Friday, without elaborating.

Noting that adults in their 30s or younger dominate recent cases, Koike reminded them of following basic anti-virus measures including mask-wearing and avoiding having parties, urging them to “share the sense of crisis.”

As of Thursday, 27% of the Japanese population has been fully vaccinated. The percentage of the elderly who are fully vaccinated is 71.5%.

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