National

Tokyo reports 107 coronavirus cases, highest in two months

by Ryusei Takahashi and Satoshi Sugiyama

Staff writers

Tokyo reported 107 new cases of the novel coronavirus Thursday, an alarming uptick that residents fear may push the central government to declare another state of emergency.

The newest batch of infections is the highest the capital has seen since May 2, and comes on the heels of a weeklong surge of infections in Tokyo that started last week when 55 cases were reported on June 24.

During a meeting of the city’s coronavirus task force Thursday, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike said health care facilities still have room to accommodate COVID-19 patients, and as such the metropolitan government won’t reimpose voluntary business requests at this time.

“The virus is still spreading in the capital and we need to proceed carefully,” Koike said. “However, I’m confident the city’s hospitals are prepared if this trend continues.”

A growing number of new cases are emerging among young people in their 20s and 30s. Tokyo officials said Thursday part of the reason is that the city is conducting more tests, but it’s also a sign the virus is spreading among individuals less likely to show symptoms.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters that the government is not considering declaring a state of emergency, repeating his previous statement that it is an option but only “in a worst-case scenario.” He also denied the possibility of convening a government task force meeting following Thursday’s rise.

“In Tokyo, more than 50 new cases are confirmed continuously and (Thursday’s) number was confirmed to be over 100, but the breakdown is currently being confirmed,” Suga said, declining to extrapolate a larger trend from Thursday’s number.

“On the other hand, (the rising cases through Wednesday) reflect the results of aggressive testing of people, including those who’ve had close contact with patients regardless of whether they are showing symptoms or not. … We’ll be working closely with the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and monitor the infection situation with caution.”

While the number of hospitalizations has increased, the number of patients with serious conditions is decreasing in Tokyo, the top government spokesman added.

While the first wave of infections in Tokyo in early April involved a disproportionate number of elderly people, city officials say the recent surge in the capital includes a higher ratio of youth in their 20s and 30s, many of whom were asymptomatic.

Not only that, a significant portion of infections have been traced back to host and hostess bars as well as other nightlife destinations, namely in the Kabukicho district in Shinjuku Ward and in the Ikebukuro district in Toshima Ward.

On Tuesday, Koike announced a revision to the city’s guidelines on monitoring the ongoing spread of the virus — shifting the focus away from new cases reported each day to the state of the city’s health care system. The guidelines are used to decide whether business closure requests and social distancing measures need to be restored.

According to the previous guidelines, recent infections in the capital would have warranted the consideration of stricter countermeasures by Koike, including business closure requests. As of Wednesday, the weekly average of daily infections in Tokyo was 56.9, exceeding the previous criteria — a weekly average of 50 cases — Koike had proposed in May for peeling back business closure requests.

But the new guidelines, which continue to reference case numbers but shift the emphasis to whether hospitals are capable of accepting more patients, do not present numerical thresholds and therefore allow city officials wiggle room in their policy options after receiving the opinions of medical experts.

COVID-19 infections in Tokyo reached their highest point when the city reported 206 cases on April 17. The capital has now recorded close to 6,400 cases of COVID-19.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared a state of emergency in seven prefectures — including Tokyo — on April 7, expanding it to the rest of the country 10 days later. The declaration, which was originally intended to expire a month later, was extended after the virus continued to spread and eventually lifted on May 25.

Infections in the capital have, for the most part, been in a lull ever since. That is, until the past week, when Tokyo began reporting about 50 new cases a day.

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