Coronavirus

Tokyo heads for pandemic record as cases of new COVID-19 subvariants rise

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Tokyo will report its highest number of COVID-19 cases for the entire pandemic on Thursday, Nippon Television reported, driven by the spread of more infectious variants just as Japan started reopening to tourists.

The city will record more than 30,000 new infections, the broadcaster said, eclipsing the previous record of 21,562 cases set on Feb. 2. The numbers are evidence that a Covid resurgence has taken hold in the Japanese capital ahead of the summer holidays.

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The rising case counts are forcing political and health care leaders to reconsider what steps, if any, are needed to contain the outbreak. Central government officials have denied the need for fresh restrictions on business activity or movement, saying they will keep a close eye on serious infections and deaths.

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While Tokyo’s hospital occupancy rate more than doubled to 43.5 percent as of July 20, from about 19 percent at the start of the month, deaths remain rare.

Experts on the government’s expert panel are expecting infections to peak this week, said Shinya Tsuzuki, medical industry equity analyst at Mizuho Securities Co. That makes the number of new cases next week, showing whether or not the outbreak is ebbing, even more important, he said.

The number of people with severe infections remains relatively low, so the market isn’t expecting the government to reimpose strict prevention measures or declare a state of emergency, he said.

Slow uptake of booster shots among younger residents may be allowing the pathogen to spread more widely in schools and social gathering areas for young adults.

More than 60 percent of all residents in the prefecture have received a third shot, according to data from the Bureau of Social Welfare and Public Health. The booster rate for those aged 12-19 is just 33.6 percent, while 45.8 percent of people in their 20s have received a third shot, the government data show.

The NTV report cited an unidentified person before the metropolitan government releases official data in the afternoon.

Broadcaster FNN separately reported that an expert panel advising Tokyo’s pandemic response is set to raise its medical system alert to the highest level on its four-tier scale due to a surge in cases in recent days.

Read more: Japan starts booster COVID-19 vaccinations amid scare over Omicron variant

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