TOKYO -- Japan's coronavirus deaths are surging, with 550 deaths confirmed across 15 days in December, compared to 382 deaths recorded in November.
It is believed infections among elderly people, who are at risk of developing severe symptoms, are behind a death toll surge that has come alongside a sudden rise in infections. On Dec. 16, 53 new coronavirus deaths were confirmed -- matching the single-day high recorded the day before -- bringing the total to 2,768 deaths including Diamond Princess cruise ship passengers. Meanwhile, as of Dec. 15, 618 people in Japan were presenting severe symptoms, exceeding 600 for the first time.
Broken down by age, a sizeable majority of coronavirus deaths are among older people aged 70 and above. According to data compiled by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare on Dec. 9, of the 2,131 recorded deaths, 26%, or 556 people, were in their 70s, while 60%, 1,275 people, were in their 80s or above. Individuals aged 70 and over accounted for more than 85% of deaths.
Looked at by prefecture, a notable increase in COVID-19 deaths has been observed in Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost prefecture. In November it recorded the country's largest number of deaths for a month with 84 people. But since the beginning of December, 147 individuals -- 1.75 times the November total -- have passed away.
Osaka Prefecture has suffered a total of 111 deaths in December so far, surpassing November's 78 deaths. Additionally, over 60% of hospital beds for patients in the west Japan prefecture with severe symptoms are occupied. In Tokyo, 92 deaths have been confirmed from the start of November to mid-December.
Hokkaido confirmed 44 deaths per million between Nov. 1 and Dec. 15, a significant amount. Osaka Prefecture followed with 21.5 deaths, while Hyogo, Saitama, and Aichi prefectures calculated deaths per million of 9.9, 9.1, and 6.8 respectively.
It is believed the country entered a "third wave" of coronavirus infections starting late October. In some regions, viral spreads in cities have reached medical institutions and care facilities for the elderly, causing cluster infections. According to the health ministry, 148 clusters were confirmed at care homes for older people during the period between Nov. 17 and Dec. 14. A senior official at the ministry commented, "The increase in infections among older people is likely behind the death toll rise."
Koji Wada, a public health professor at the International University of Health and Welfare and an expert on infectious diseases, said, "It's been reported overseas that death rates have risen as a result of collapses in health care systems. There have also been cases in some regions in this country where compromised care infrastructure was a factor." He added that the death toll could rise further if infections among older people continue to increase.
(Japanese original by Sooryeon Kim, Lifestyle and Medical News Department)