National

Koike urges caution as growing number of Tokyo COVID-19 infections traced to young people

by Ryusei Takahashi

STAFF WRITER

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike confirmed the detection of 124 additional cases of the novel coronavirus Friday, following a weeklong surge made worse by a growing number of infections among young people that officials have traced to host and hostess bars, maid cafes and other nightlife destinations.

“It’s clear there needs to be a renewed sense of urgency in Tokyo,” Koike said in a news conference Friday, during which she urged residents to practice further caution but stopped short of reimposing business closure requests or introducing new virus countermeasures.

The most recent uptick in infections began June 24 when the capital reported 55 new cases. Since then, the city has recorded more than 680 cases in the span of 10 days, bringing the capital’s total past 6,500.

Recent cases involve a growing number of young people in their 20s and 30s. The median age of new infections is dropping in other parts of the world as well.

“The number of people in their 20s and 30s among new infections is extremely high…. This is concerning because young, asymptomatic people could unknowingly infect those who are at greater risk of developing serious symptoms,” Koike said.

Of the 124 cases reported Friday, Koike said 50 were reported by testing centers in Shinjuku Ward. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government said 97 of the cases are people in their 20s and 30s, and that 83 are male.

The governor called on the capital’s residents to avoid places where new infections are emerging.

Experts have several theories as to why a rising number of younger people are testing positive, one of which is that more testing is causing the age distribution to balance itself out.

The first wave of COVID-19 in Japan — which is thought by the government’s expert panel to have peaked in early April — recorded large numbers of infections among older people as a result of targeted testing and cluster chasing carried out both in the capital and throughout the country.

Out of the 453 infections reported in Tokyo between June 25 and July 1, 69 percent occurred among people in the 20-30 age group, with 44 percent being traced back to nightlife destinations — primarily in Tokyo’s Kabukicho and Ikebukuro districts. The origins of around 40 percent have yet to be traced.

Another theory is that older adults have become more cautious while young people — who are less likely to show symptoms and therefore more likely to spread the virus without knowing it — have not shown as much concern.

In Tokyo, officials say it’s most likely a combination of both.

Earlier this week, officials suggested that new cases are involving a higher number of young people because the city is conducting group polymerase chain reaction tests in host and hostess bars, maid cafes and nightclubs in an attempt to pre-emptively contain cluster infections.

On Thursday, however, after the capital reported an uptick of 107 new cases, officials conceded that the increased number of infections is a sign the virus is spreading silently among asymptomatic carriers.

In the past week, a small but growing number of infections have also emerged among employees sharing a workspace and family members sharing a residence, as well as primary school teachers and train station staff.

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