Japan widens virus state of emergency after record spike during Olympics
Japan has expanded the coronavirus state of emergency in Tokyo to neighbouring areas and the western city of Osaka following a record surge in infections while the capital hosts the Olympics.
The country’s prime minister Yoshihide Suga declared an emergency in Saitama, Kanagawa and Chiba, near Tokyo, as well as in the western city of Osaka, effective from Monday until August 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 on August 24.
The upsurge in cases in Tokyo, despite more than two weeks of emergency measures, is raising doubts that they can effectively slow infections.
Five other areas, including Hokkaido, Kyoto, Hyogo and Fukuoka, will be placed under less stringent emergency restrictions.
Tokyo has reported a record rise in cases for three days in a row, including 3,865 on Thursday, before logging a further 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 taken to hospital, 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 centres decide where they will be treated.
Tokyo is also setting up a facility for those requiring oxygen while waiting for hospital beds.
“Infections are expanding in the Tokyo and western metropolitan areas at an enormous speed that we have never experienced before,” Mr Suga said, as he declared the expansion of the state of emergency.
If the spike continued at the current pace with the spread of the more contagious Delta variant, Japan’s medical system could collapse, he said.
At a 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 on 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 the UK and 2.8 in India, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
The emergency measures focus on an alcohol ban at restaurants 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.
Mr Suga said his key strategy, targeting dining, would remain largely unchanged. He said subsides would be paid faster to business owners who co-operated, and local authorities would patrol “to increase the effectiveness of the measures”.
Meanwhile, earlier on Friday, Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike told a news conference: “We need to come up with measures that are effective.”
Noting that adults in their 30s or younger dominate recent cases, Ms 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%.