Japan has recorded a record number of coronavirus cases while critical care beds in Tokyo are nearing capacity less than a week before the city is due to host the 残奥会.
The latest wave of Covid-19 infections has spread well beyond Tokyo, the centre of previous outbreaks, with Osaka, neighbouring Hyogo and other prefectures all reporting record caseloads on Wednesday.
Nationally the number of daily infections reached a record 23,917 according to a tally by the public broadcaster NHK.
Tokyo recorded 5,386 cases the same day – slightly lower than its all-time high of 5,773 last Friday – but medical experts said low rates of testing meant the actual number could be much higher.
While government officials and scientists continue to disagree on whether the 奥运会 contributed to the latest surge, preparations for the Paralympics are continuing amid a state of emergency in Tokyo that will still be in place after the games have ended.
The emergency measures cover nearly 60% of Japan’s population and will run until 12 九月. They had originally been scheduled to end on 31 八月.
The measures have failed to stop infections soaring as the more transmissible Delta variant takes hold, prompting calls for the government to revise laws to enable it to impose restrictions that more closely resemble the stricter lockdowns seen in other countries.
Currently authorities can only request that bars and restaurants stop serving alcohol and close early, using a combination of subsidies and fines to encourage compliance. 关于 40% of establishments in some parts of Tokyo are ignoring the rules, according to Japanese media.
The government will ask large shopping malls and department stores to limit the number of customers inside at one time.
The fifth wave of infections is placing strain on hospital beds, forcing the government to ask people with “mild” symptoms to recuperate at home, despite evidence that the policy results in deaths among people whose condition rapidly deteriorates. 作为 11 August more than 74,000 people were isolating at home, the health ministry said, 13 times the number a month earlier.
多于 80% of Tokyo’s critical care beds are occupied, and the rate is already 100% in neighbouring Kanagawa prefecture. Serious cases climbed to records of 276 in Tokyo and 1,646 nationally on Tuesday.
Kenji Shibuya, an expert in infectious diseases, said that even without legal changes the outbreak could be slowed by more testing and the wider use of hotels to isolate patients.
“They could have done much more effective measures to control Covid under the current law,” said Shibuya, a former director of the Institute for Population Health at King’s College London. “The Japanese public has been complying so well until now.”
The latest surge began just before the Olympics opened last month and continued throughout the games, with spectators banned from most events.
Sport fans will also be kept away from almost all Paralympic events when they open next Tuesday, although a limited number of schoolchildren will reportedly be allowed to attend.
The prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, and Tokyo 2020 organisers continue to insist that the Olympics were “safe and secure” – contradicting some experts who believe that the event encouraged relaxed behaviour that enabled the virus to spread among the public.
Half of Japan’s 125 million people have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, but only about a third have been fully vaccinated.