Japan has expanded the state of emergency to three prefectures near Olympic host Tokyo and the western prefecture of Osaka, as COVID-19 cases spike in the capital and around the country, overshadowing the Summer Games.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga called on the citizens to watch the Olympics at home at a news conference announcing the extension of coronavirus restrictions in several areas on Friday as the Delta variant drives infection numbers to record highs.
Emergency measures already in place in Tokyo will be extended until the end of August, after the Olympics and well into the Paralympic Games which start on August 24.
Tokyo has reported a record increase in cases for three days in a row, including 3,865 on Thursday and 3,300 on Friday. The cases have doubled since last week, although officials say the surge is unrelated to the Olympics.
A government panel approved the plan putting Saitama, Kanagawa and Chiba, as well as Osaka, under the state of emergency from Monday. Five other areas, including Hokkaido, Kyoto, Hyogo and Fukuoka, will be placed under less-stringent emergency restrictions.
Officials have warned Tokyo’s daily infections may hit 4,500 within two weeks.
Officials said 2,995 people were hospitalised, 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.
At Friday’s 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 deaths, 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 with 18.5 in the United States, 48 in Britain and 2.8 in India, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
The emergency measures focus on an alcohol ban at eateries 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.
“We need to come up with measures that are effective,” Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike told a regular news conference on Friday, without elaborating.
Noting that adults in their 30s or younger dominate recent cases, 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 percent of the Japanese population has been fully vaccinated. The percentage of the elderly who are fully vaccinated is 71.5 percent.