The Tokyo Metropolitan Government reported 224 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Thursday, an all-time high for the capital following a surge in infections that began more than two weeks ago.
The previous record was 206 cases, set on April 17 — 10 days after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared a state of emergency in Tokyo and six other prefectures.
Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike had said earlier Thursday that the day’s new cases would be high, prefacing the warning by explaining that the number of polymerase chain reaction tests carried out in the capital had also reached an all-time high of 3,400 tests that day.
“While the city is testing more, the rising number of new infections makes it clear that greater caution is necessary,” Koike said during a meeting of the city’s task force the same day.
Koike said she wants to bolster financial support for local businesses crippled by cluster infections — namely nightlife destinations like host and hostess bars and maid cafes, to name a few — to pinpoint where the metropolitan government’s money goes instead of issuing expansive closure requests to the entire city.
On June 24, almost a month after the state of emergency for the whole country was lifted on May 25, new cases in the capital exceeded 50 a day. Then, from July 2, the daily totals rose above 100.
Unlike the nation’s first outbreak, which members of the government’s expert panel say peaked in early April, a significant proportion of new infections in Tokyo have been traced back to host and hostess bars and other nightlife destinations in districts such as Kabukicho and Ikebukuro, located in the city’s Shinjuku and Toshima wards, respectively.
Over the past two weeks, young people in their 20s and 30s have accounted for the majority of cases reported by the city. Such individuals accounted for 75 percent of the new cases reported Thursday, Koike said.
The most recent spike in Tokyo has led residents to wonder if the city will reissue voluntary business closure requests or if the central government will once again declare a state of emergency in the capital.
However, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Thursday afternoon that the government would not reverse the planned easing of restrictions for large events, a policy set to be implemented Friday. Under the new rules, the number of people allowed to attend indoor venues for concerts or sports games will be increased to 5,000 as long as the venues are kept at or below 50 percent capacity.
At an Upper House Cabinet committee hearing Thursday morning, economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura speculated that the tallies for Thursday and Friday would be high, reflecting a delay in the number of cases reported in Shinjuku Ward from Wednesday, when 75 cases were reported in the capital.
But Nishimura, who is responsible for the government’s coronavirus measures, dismissed the possibility of declaring a state of emergency amid the recent surge.
The situation as of Wednesday marked a significant improvement compared with April, Nishimura said, adding that the number of patients in serious condition was just six, as opposed to 93 during the earlier spread of the virus, and that a large number of new infections have been confirmed in people in their 30s or below, who are less likely to develop serious symptoms.
The country’s health care system was also not overwhelmed, with 444 patients hospitalized now compared with 1,832 in April, Nishimura said. Efforts are also underway to increase the number of hospital beds to 3,000.
“We’ve confirmed with infectious disease experts that we aren’t at the point of declaring a state of emergency, taking those (details) into consideration, but it’s unmistakable that we need to remain vigilant,” he said. “I think we need to thoroughly analyze whether the infection is spreading to surrounding areas.”
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