Japan has expanded its coronavirus state of emergency to four more areas beyond Tokyo after record increases in infections while the capital hosts the Olympics Games.
The country’s prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, declared an emergency in Saitama, Kanagawa and Chiba near Tokyo and in the western city of Osaka, effective from Monday until 31 August.
Emergency measures already in place in Tokyo and the southern island of Okinawa will also be extended until the end of August, after the Olympics and well into the Paralympics, which start on 24 August.
The upsurge in cases in Tokyo despite more than two weeks of emergency measures is raising doubts that the authorities can slow infections effectively.
Five other areas, including Hokkaido, Kyoto, Hyogo and Fukuoka will be placed under less-stringent emergency restrictions.
Tokyo has reported record increases in cases for three days in a row, including 3,865 on Thursday before logging a further 3,300 on Friday. The number of cases has doubled since last week, but officials say the rise is unrelated to the Olympics.
“Infections are expanding in the Tokyo and western metropolitan areas at an enormous speed that we have never experienced before,“ Suga said. He also said that the country health system could collapse if cases continued to rise at the current pace with the spread of the more contagious Delta variant.
Japan has kept its number of cases and deaths lower than many other countries, but its seven-day rolling average is growing and stands at 28 per 100,000 people nationwide and 88 per 100,000 in Tokyo, according to thehealth ministry. This compares with 18.5 in the US, 48 in the UK and 2.8 in India, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Officials said 2,995 Covid patients were in hospital in Tokyo, about half the current capacity of 6,000 beds, with some hospitals already full. More than 10,000 others were isolating at home or in designated hotels, and 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 a hospital bed.
Japan reported 10,687 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.
The emergency measures focus on shortened opening hours and an alcohol ban at restaurants and karaoke bars, but many have been defying the measures as they become tired of restrictions.
Suga said his key strategy, to target dining, would be largely unchanged. Subsidies would be paid to business owners who cooperate more quickly and local authorities would patrol to increase the effectiveness of the measures, he said.
He also said at a later news conference that the government had approved the use of an antibody cocktail treatment for patients with mild symptoms to prevent them from worsening. As thousands of people wait for hospital beds, however, the treatment may be too late for many, experts say.
Suga, who has faced criticism for insisting on hosting the Olympics despite widespread health concerns, said the recent upsurge was not linked to the Games. He pledged to accelerate inoculations of younger people who are increasingly becoming infected.
Tokyo’s governor, Yuriko Koike, noted on Friday that people in their 30s or younger accounted for many recent cases and urged them to “share the sense of crisis” and follow basic measures such as mask wearing and avoiding having parties.
As of Thursday, 27% of the Japanese population has been fully vaccinated, including 71.5% of elderly people.