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Concerns for March end to state of emergency grow as Tokyo infection decline slows

High-rise buildings in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward are seen with the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in the center in this April 2020 file photo taken from a Mainichi Shimbun helicopter. (Mainichi/Kota Yoshida)

TOKYO -- The fall in new coronavirus case numbers in the Japanese capital is slowing.

    While the Tokyo Metropolitan Government had hoped the seven-day running average for new infections would fall to at least 70% of the previous week's figure. However, recent new case numbers have fallen short of this target, a sign that the downward trend is ending.

    With the end of the current state of emergency declaration due March 7, sources close to the metro government have begun to wonder aloud whether they will be able to lift restrictions on schedule.

    "If cases rebound there will be a fourth wave. For that reason, we must see prevention measures through completely," said Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike at a metro government pandemic monitoring meeting on Feb. 26.

    At a Feb. 2 press conference, the governor called for cooperation from the capital's residents and showcased estimates that if the latest seven-day average of infections continued to be about 70% or lower than the week before, then by early March Tokyo could be seeing 140 or fewer new cases per day.

    All was proceeding as per the model in mid-February, but the end of the month has seen days where case numbers are 80 to 90% of the totals a week prior. As of Feb. 26, the seven-day average was 267.9 people -- about 74% of the total for the preceding seven days. The reduction rate is slowing.

    At a Feb. 26 metro government meeting, it was reported that the proportion of people in their 20s, 30s and 50s contracting the virus had risen compared to the previous week. One government official told the Mainichi Shimbun, "An increase in young people's activities appears to be one of the factors behind it (the stalling case decline)." Some in the Tokyo Metropolitan Government have also voiced concerns that the state of emergency's early lifting in west Japan's Kansai region and elsewhere could be inviting complacency among capital region residents.

    On Feb. 26, the metro government decided to bolster its active epidemiological investigations, which fulfill duties including tracking down people who have had close contact with infected individuals.

    In response to the third wave of coronavirus infections and as part of efforts to reduce the burden on public health centers, the investigations had been doing priority checks on groups and areas with a high risk of developing serious symptoms, but they will have their remit widened to include anywhere a cluster infection may easily occur.

    One person in the medical sector said, "How far infection numbers can be reduced by March 7 is the crucial factor. There's probably a chance that the declaration can't be lifted by the end of its current period."

    (Japanese original by Toshiki Koseki and Koichi Uchida, City News Department)

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