The real number of COVID-19 infections in Japan is likely several times higher than government reports are indicating nationwide, a specialist in infectious diseases says.

Motoi Suzuki, head of the Infectious Disease Surveillance Center at the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, was referring Friday to estimates by a health ministry team.

The clusters so far confirmed in Japan consist mainly of middle-aged and older people, including participants at a New Year’s party held on a traditional party boat and members of a fitness club.

“Clusters are believed to have also occurred among people in their 20s to 30s,” who are less likely to develop symptoms of the virus, said Suzuki, who was put on a government panel set up to fight the new coronavirus.

He said efforts are underway to develop ways to detect clusters among young people so transmission can be prevented to older generations.

In the meantime, NIID on Friday recognized cases in which the asthma drug Ciclesonide has been found effective in treating COVID-19 patients.

Based on data at NIID showing the drug worked on patients with Middle East respiratory syndrome, a hospital in Kanagawa Prefecture administered it to three elderly pneumonia patients from the virus-hit Diamond Princess cruise ship.

Afterward, their symptoms, which included fever and respiratory distress, reportedly improved in a few days.

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