National

Coronavirus cases surge in cities as Tokyo sets new record of 243

by Ryusei Takahashi

Staff writer

Tokyo, neighboring prefectures and other major cities began to see a simultaneous surge in new cases of the novel coronavirus in the past few days, forcing policymakers to weigh public health concerns against business closure requests that would risk further damage to the economy.

On Friday, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike reported 243 new cases, yet another record-breaking figure in a surge of infections that began in late June.

In the seven days leading up to Thursday, Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitama prefectures reported a combined total of 403 infections. That's nearly double the 209 cases they reported together between June 26 and July 2, according to data from the ministry of health.

An increasing number of new cases in Tokyo are untraceable or asymptomatic, Koike said during a news conference Friday.

“But the virus is still spreading and we need residents to understand that, if you feel ill or concerned about your health in any way, it's for your own good and that of the people around you to seek out medical help,” Koike said.

Increased testing — specifically on a group basis in Kabukicho, where several clusters have emerged — is partially responsible for the surge, Koike said.

“No city has a vaccine. No city has a treatment for this disease,” she said. “No city in the world has figured out how to revive and rebuild its economy while simultaneously protecting residents from the spreading virus."

On Thursday, soon after the Tokyo Metropolitan Government announced what was then a record-breaking 224 cases, Koike announced a ¥313.2 billion draft supplementary budget that included a plan to provide subsidies to host and hostess clubs, bars and other nightlife destinations that have become the center of the capital’s most recent surge. Koike said the metropolitan government will offer ¥500,000 to such businesses if they agree to voluntarily close for more than 10 days.

In April, the city offered more expansive financial support to all local businesses that complied with voluntary countermeasures. This plan received a fair amount of criticism, with residents crying out the money was too little too late.

This time around, Koike said she hopes the city can pinpoint where the virus is damaging the economy and target certain businesses that need assistance.

The plan was revealed following a surge in infections — the majority involving people in their 20s and 30s or those who spent time in the nightlife districts in Shinjuku Ward or Ikebukuro in Toshima Ward — that began just over two weeks ago.

Despite the growing numbers, the central government lifted restrictions on public events Friday in a move that would permit sporting events and other public gatherings up to 5,000 people, rather than 1,000 as previously instructed.

A spate of major sporting events were scheduled for Friday night nationwide. A J. League second division match between Fagiano Okayama and Giravanz Kitakyushu, as well as six Nippon Professional Baseball games, including a clash between the Yakult Swallows and league leader Yomiuri Giants, are sure to attract big crowds.

The latest figure takes the capital’s cumulative total past 7,500 infections and 325 deaths, though the city hasn’t reported any deaths since June 24. On Thursday, the metropolitan government announced 224 additional cases of COVID-19.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared a state of emergency in Tokyo and six other prefectures. The order was extended to the rest of the country 10 days later and finally lifted on May 25.

On Thursday, Osaka Prefecture reported 30 new cases for the first time since April 29, and Chiba Prefecture saw 22 cases, the highest since April 23. Coronavirus infections continue to be steadily reported in Kanagawa and Saitama as well.

While different parts of the country appear to be experiencing either a resurgence or an initial wave, like in the case of a United States naval base in Okinawa — the severity of each varies greatly, and so does the demographic breakdown of those infected.

Not only that, flooding and landslides caused by heavy rain in parts of the country have forced municipalities to prioritize disaster response over virus countermeasures.

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