Further spread of 'different level' delta variant feared in Japan: gov't advisory board
TOKYO -- In response to a resurgence in coronavirus infections, the Japanese government is adding eight prefectures including Aichi and Hiroshima to the list of those under a state of emergency, while the health ministry's advisory board has warned of possible record-extending COVID-19 case rises after the Obon holiday season.
In an Aug. 25 meeting, the coronavirus expert advisory board of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare said that the number of new nationwide coronavirus cases has been "continuously exceeding record-high levels for nearly a month," and presented the finding that infections have been increasing at a higher rate in regions outside the greater Tokyo area, compared to the capital region. The advisory board also called for people to stay on guard for a potential increase in cases due to a rise in social activity as the Obon summer holiday has ended.
"I'd like administrative bodies and the public to share a sense of crisis that the highly transmissible delta variant is a virus on a different level, compared to previous ones," said Takaji Wakita, head of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NIID) who heads the advisory board, in a press conference after the meeting. Wakita called on the public to reduce their outings to under half of what they are accustomed to in order to protect themselves and their families.
Weekly new infections per 100,000 people between Aug. 18 and 24 showed 44 of Japan's 47 prefectures at the 25-cases-or-more criterion for a state of emergency declaration, also known as Stage 4, marked by an explosive rise in infections. Meanwhile, 17 prefectures recorded 100 cases or more. Okinawa Prefecture registered 314 cases, and Tokyo 233 -- both critical figures. Forty-three prefectures, excluding Iwate, Fukushima, Ishikawa and Tottori, saw a rise in figures for the most recent weekly new infections compared to that recorded in the week between Aug. 11 and 17. Regarding what seems to be a decline in the speed of infections for Okinawa and Tokyo, an expert of the advisory board claimed, "The actual figures for coronavirus cases have been underrated amid a state of a sudden increase in infections and a rise in the positive virus test rate."
In tandem with an explosive spread of infections, the number of nationwide patients with severe symptoms has also registered record highs on a daily basis. As of Aug. 24, there were 1,964 serious COVID-19 cases, and an increase in deaths is also feared. During the Aug. 25 meeting, the NIID also presented the estimate that coronavirus deaths between Aug. 24 and 30 will total up to 45 cases nationwide per day, and 10 per day for Tokyo -- based on the number of deaths, and people with moderate to severe cases of COVID-19 reported thus far.
According to the Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Medical Science, nighttime populations recorded in Tokyo's major entertainment districts saw a 6.2% increase in just a week following the end of the Obon holiday season, with figures remaining at levels of only around a 30% decrease compared to that before the state of emergency declaration.
However, regarding the back-to-school season following summer break, Wakita said that "it is not necessary to hold temporary school closures or school lockdowns in order to curb infections," even amid the spread of the delta variant. Pointing out that coronavirus countermeasures differ among elementary, junior high, senior high schools and universities, he said, "There has been discussion that universities need to hold remote classes as much as possible. Cluster infections have been occurring during extracurricular activities and at nationwide tournaments, and we'd like for postponements and cancellations to be considered based on the state of infections."
(Japanese original by Sooryeon Kim, Lifestyle and Medical News Department)