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Japan gov't advisers warn of rapid COVID-19 spread, medical group calls surge '3rd wave'

People wearing masks are seen in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward on Nov. 11, 2020. (Mainichi/Kota Yoshida)

TOKYO -- As the number of people infected with the novel coronavirus increases across Japan, an expert advisory board to the health ministry said Nov. 11 that the upward trend of newly infected people has been getting stronger since November, and cautioned that if left as is, the situation could possibly lead to a rapid spread of the virus.

    The day the advisory board on the novel coronavirus, led by Takaji Wakita, director-general of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, called for renewed caution, 1,548 new cases of people infected with the virus had been confirmed in Japan.

    On the same day, Japan Medical Association President Toshio Nakagawa told a press conference that the current rise in coronavirus infection cases could be considered Japan's "third wave."

    In the past week (Nov. 3-9), 6,674 people were confirmed to be newly infected with the novel coronavirus in Japan, which is 1.36 times the number from the previous week. In the northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido, the number of newly confirmed infections was 920, or 2.06 times compared to the previous week, showing an even steeper upward trend. The effective reproduction number, or R number -- the average number of people whom one infected person infects -- has remained at more than one nationwide since mid-October, indicating that infections are spreading. As of Oct. 21, the R number was estimated to have been 1.18, and the advisory board's analysis showed that in Hokkaido, Osaka and Aichi prefectures, R exceeded one.

    As for reasons why the coronavirus can spread, the advisory board cited the diversification of cluster infections, from those in entertainment districts in regional cities to ones in foreign resident communities, saying, "It is necessary to analyze the clusters' occurrence factors that differ from community to community, and respond quickly." Economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said, "It is our decision not to declare (a state of emergency) at this stage. But there are regions that are entering stage 3 (surge in infections). We are at a point where we must be vigilant and step up our efforts so that infections do not increase any further."

    Meanwhile, in preparation for a simultaneous epidemic of the novel coronavirus and influenza, 23,755 medical institutions nationwide were designated examination and testing facilities for patients with fevers as of Nov. 9, a Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare tally revealed. At the predicted peak of novel coronavirus and flu testing, for a demand of 460,000 cases per day, it is expected that the country will have the capacity to collect 500,000 samples, and analyze 540,000 samples (340,000 simple antigen tests and 170,000 polymerase chain reaction tests, among others). All 47 prefectures reported that they will be able to secure testing capacity that meets at least the demand, but whether testing can be carried out as predicted remains to be seen.

    (Japanese original by Sooryeon Kim and Hiroyuki Harada, Lifestyle and Medical News Department)

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