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Workplace heatstroke cases hit record high in SW Japan in 2020; masks possible cause

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MIYAZAKI -- The number of workplace heatstroke cases requiring four or more days of leave hit record highs in the southwestern Japan prefectures of Miyazaki, Kumamoto and Kagoshima in 2020, statistics from each prefecture's regional labor bureau have revealed.

    The high heat of recent summers plus mask-wearing amid the coronavirus pandemic have been suggested as possible contributing factors to the record number of cases, and the labor bureaus are calling on people to be wary of the condition.

    The numbers were 15 including one death in Miyazaki Prefecture, 23 in Kumamoto Prefecture and 19 in Kagoshima Prefecture. When including patients who took zero to three days' leave, Miyazaki Prefecture had 133 cases -- the most since 2014 -- and Kumamoto Prefecture had 159 cases -- the second highest figure following 173 cases in 2018. Kagoshima Prefecture does not track heatstroke cases in this category.

    Heatstroke countermeasures are already an urgent task this spring, with some days seeing heatstroke alert-level temperatures, including the city of Miyazaki on May 9, when the mercury hit a high of 31.4 degrees Celsius. According to the Environment Ministry's heatstroke prevention website, as of noon May 11 the heat index -- calculated from the temperature, humidity and other factors -- hit 28.9 on Okinoerabu island in Kagoshima Prefecture -- a heightened heatstroke alert level -- and 25.7 in Kushima, Miyazaki Prefecture -- a basic alert level.

    Heatstroke case numbers in 2020 began to rise in May. The Miyazaki Labor Bureau warned residents: "Wearing a mask in a hot and humid environment heightens the risk of heatstroke. We recommend creating rules about where workers can take off their masks and where they should wear them."

    (Japanese original by Kenta Somatani, Miyazaki Bureau)

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