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Japan health panel warns COVID-19 deaths may climb amid high infection levels

This file photo shows the building housing Japan's Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare in Tokyo. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- The health ministry's coronavirus expert advisory board reported at an Aug. 18 meeting that Japan is continuing to see "the highest infection levels so far," and warned that COVID-19 deaths could climb further.

    The board said that although the number of new COVID-19 cases across Japan logged during the most recent week until Aug. 17 was 0.87 times that of the previous week, the current infection levels are the highest recorded so far. It expressed a sense of crisis, saying, "The numbers of severe cases and deaths have been on the rise, and in particular, it is feared that the number of deaths will further increase while surpassing current record highs."

    According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, the number of COVID-19 cases fell from the previous week in 30 prefectures, including large urban areas like Tokyo and Osaka, whose recent weekly cases were 0.82 times that of the previous week.

    However, the advisory board pointed out the possibility that infections were being undervalued, due to a strain on the coronavirus testing system and delay in diagnoses due to the obon holiday and other reasons. High infection levels have been continuously observed, with a rate of over 1,000 infections per 100,000 people in 26 prefectures.

    As for the outlook moving forward, the board commented, "There are concerns that we will start seeing the consequences of people's movements during the obon holiday, and as long as infections do not decrease at an early stage, it is predicted that the health care system will be strained for a prolonged period."

    Hospital bed occupancy rates have remained high, with 41 prefectures recording occupancy rates of over 50% as of Aug. 17, according to the Cabinet Secretariat. Kanagawa Prefecture marked the highest figure at 91%, followed by 82% in Shiga Prefecture and 80% in Shizuoka Prefecture. (Japanese original by Shunsuke Kamiashi, Lifestyle and Medical News Department)

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