In a surge that sent a shock wave throughout the nation, Tokyo recorded 366 new COVID-19 cases Thursday, topping the 300 mark for the first time and leaping more than 100 cases from the previous day.
It was by far the highest single-day figure ever recorded by the metropolis. It will likely stoke concerns of a second wave and heap further pressure on policymakers to reinstate some of the earlier restrictions, including issuing business closure requests and declaring a state of emergency.
“It’s a significant number,” Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike told a group of reporters Thursday. “I think we can consider this to be a warning that stronger public cooperation is needed” to curb the contagion.
In the meantime, 920 new daily infections have been confirmed at a nationwide level as of 7 p.m. on Thursday, setting a record a second straight day, according to public broadcaster NHK. Osaka Prefecture saw 104 infections, topping 100 for two consecutive days while Aichi confirmed 96 cases. On Wednesday, Japan logged 795 cases.
Thursday’s Tokyo figures, 15 percent of which were found to be asymptomatic, partly reflect increased testing capacity, with the results coming from a record 4,926 tests — which are typically conducted three days prior — taken into account, according to Koike.
But in a disconcerting revelation, Koike said Thursday’s figures do not include results from the targeted testing of a high-risk demographic, unlike with an earlier resurgence from weeks back that stemmed largely from group testing conducted on host club employees in Tokyo’s Kabukicho red-light district — arguably the epicenter of Tokyo infections.
The previous record in Tokyo alone was 293 on July 17.
The figures are also likely to dampen momentum for the state-sponsored Go To Travel tourism initiative that the government hopes will breathe some life back into the battered sector. Ironically, Thursday marked the start of Japan’s first long weekend since the incentive program debuted earlier this week, further boding ill for a controversial initiative already under fire for poorly thought out details and fumblings by officials.
Trips to and from Tokyo — one of the most popular tourist destinations in Japan — have been disqualified from the discount program, throwing its effectiveness into doubt and spurring a rush of cancellations.
“The government campaign has started already, but I’m asking residents in Tokyo to refrain from going out as much as possible,” Koike said Thursday, reiterating her calls from the previous day.
“Without their cooperation, we can reasonably expect the number of cases to continue to rise. When that happens, we may have to put a brake on economic activity once again. Public cooperation is essential to avoiding that scenario,” she said.
Age-wise, 60 percent of cases confirmed Thursday were from those in their 20s and 30s, but an increasing number of those in their 40s and 50s also tested positive, the governor said. Infections are making greater inroads to the outskirts of Tokyo as well, including the western Tama region, she added.
In anticipation of a further increase, Tokyo has been ramping up the capacity to hospitalize those infected and accommodate the mildly ill and asymptomatic at hotels, the governor said. Tokyo aims to boost the number of beds for COVID-19 patients from 1,000 to 2,800, and has secured 2,400 so far. As of Wednesday, 916 people were hospitalized, with 18 critically ill patients.
Tokyo, where a state of emergency was lifted May 25, began to see a marked resurgence of cases earlier this month. On July 9, the capital recorded 224 cases, the first time the single-day figure topped the 200 mark in nearly three months.
Ahead of the four-day weekend, Koike advised that the elderly and those with underlying health conditions take particular precautions because of their vulnerability to complications. She warned against complacency on the part of students and young businessmen, too, requesting they exercise utmost caution and behave with the possibility in mind that they may have been infected already — a message she doubled down on Thursday.
Thursday would have marked the eve of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics but for the pandemic. In a different universe, “I would perhaps be spending today worrying what the weather might look like for the opening ceremony,” Koike said.
“I remain determined to make the Olympics next year something that we can call proof that humankind has conquered the coronavirus.”
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