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Officials in Tokyo alarmed as coronavirus cases hit record high

The Olympic Rings during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in Japan. Picture by Mike Egerton/PA Wire
Mari Yamaguchi, Associated Press Reporter

Japanese officials have expressed concern after Tokyo reported record-breaking coronavirus cases for two days in a row with the Olympics well under way.

“We have never experienced an expansion in the infections of this magnitude,” said chief cabinet secretary Katsunobu Kato. He said the new cases were soaring not only in the Tokyo area but across the country.

Tokyo reported 3,177 new cases on Wednesday, up from 2,848 on Tuesday, setting an all-time high and exceeding 3,000 for the first time.

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 in Tokyo, according to the Health Ministry.

“While almost nothing is helping to slow the infections, there are many factors that can accelerate them,” said Dr Shigeru Omi, a top government medical adviser, noting the Olympics and summer holidays. “The biggest risk is the lack of a sense of crisis and without it, the infections will further expand and put medical systems under severe strain.”

Tokyo has been under its fourth state of emergency since July 12, ahead of the Olympics, which began last Friday despite widespread public opposition and concern that the Games could worsen the outbreak.

People are still roaming the streets despite stay-at-home requests, making the measures largely ineffective at a time the more infectious Delta variant is spreading, he said.

“We have never seen the infections spread so rapidly,” Dr Shigeru added.

Alarmed by the surge in Tokyo, the governors of three prefectures adjacent to the capital said they plan to ask Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to place their areas under the state of emergency too.

Experts say Tokyo’s surge is being propelled by the Delta variant of the virus and there is no evidence of the disease being transmitted from Olympic participants to the general public.

Tokyo officials said on Thursday that two foreign Olympic athletes are currently in hospital and 38 others are self-isolating at designated hotels in the city. Governor Yuriko Koike urged the organisers to make sure not to burden Tokyo’s hospitals.

Nationwide, Japan reported more than 9,500 confirmed cases, a new record, on Wednesday for a total of about 892,000, with about 15,000 deaths.

As of Wednesday, 26.3% of the Japanese population has been fully vaccinated. The percentage of the elderly who are fully vaccinated is 70%, or 24.8 million people.

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