Japan calls for ‘highest level of vigilance’ as Omicron sub-variant drives record rise in Covid | Japan

The Japanese government has urged people to exercise the “highest level of vigilance” after the country reported a record number of new Covid-19 cases in a new wave of infections caused by the highly transferable.

More than 186,000 cases were recorded nationwide on Thursday, while Tokyo easily broke its existing daily record with 31,878 cases. The capital, along with Osaka and Fukuoka, was among 30 of the country’s 47 prefectures to set records this week.

Residents of the southern prefecture of Okinawa, which recorded a record 5,250 new cases, would be asked to avoid non-essential outings from Friday until mid-August, public broadcaster NHK said.

In addition, groups of up to four diners would be allowed to eat in restaurants for up to two hours only, while the elderly and those with underlying health conditions would be asked to meet only members of the family they lived with, NHK said.

Okinawa has a hospital bed occupancy rate of around 60%, prompting the local medical association to warn that the islands’ health infrastructure is on the verge of collapse and to ask people to do not go to the emergency room if they have mild, cold symptoms.

The central government has said there are no immediate plans to revert to restrictions seen in previous virus waves, but urged people to exercise caution, fearing further surges could increase pressure on health services.

Health Minister Shigeyuki Goto said the sharp rise in infections “could increase the number of patients with severe symptoms”, adding that he was particularly concerned about possible outbreaks among vulnerable people in hospitals and retirement homes.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said, “We need to closely monitor the infection situation in the future, including access to medical services, with the highest level of vigilance.”

Kyodo news agency reported that some members of the official Covid advisory committee had called on the government to consider placing areas with the highest infection rates under a state of emergency – a move that could include the restrictions on the movement of people and the obligation for bars and restaurants to close earlier. and limiting alcohol sales, under threat of fines.

That seems unlikely given that the current wave – the seventh of the pandemic in Japan – has disproportionately affected children and young people. The virus panel, however, warned that a recent rise in cases among people aged 60 could see more patients developing severe symptoms.

Experts say widespread mask-wearing, high vaccination rates and other factors have helped Japan avoid the catastrophic death toll seen in comparable countries, and without resorting to lockdowns.

Despite its large population over 65, Japan has the lowest per capita death rate among the 38 OECD countries, at 246 per million people, according to Our World in Data.

Mask-wearing is still the norm, even after the government said people could remove them outside while socially distancing, especially in the hot summer months.

Some Tokyoites have expressed concern about the recent outbreak.

“I think it’s really shocking that it has risen to over 30,000,” said Ai Okamura, an office worker. “I live with my grandmother, so that makes me a lot more careful.”

Shinichi Koyama, a systems engineer, said he was not surprised that infections had reached record levels. “Since the spring everyone has calmed down and is back to normal,” he said. “So to some extent it was predictable.”

Reuters contributed to this report

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