The percentage of occupied hospital beds reserved for coronavirus patients rose in 39 of the 47 prefectures in the week that ended July 29, with occupancy rates over 30 percent in eight prefectures, government data showed Monday, raising fears that the medical system may soon become overwhelmed amid a resurgence of infections.
The study by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare found that the number of occupied beds across the country stood at 4,034 as of July 29, increasing by 1,290 from the week prior.
The growing strain on the country's health care system comes as the government remains cautious about putting stricter restrictions on economic activities.
By prefecture, Osaka led the pack with 42.5 percent of its beds reserved for COVID-19 patients occupied. It was followed by Saitama at 40.4 percent, Aichi at 39 percent and Tokyo at 37.9 percent.
Okinawa Prefecture, however, marked the fastest weekly pace of increase, with the bed occupancy rate surging to 36.6 percent from 4.0 percent. While the prefecture increased its total available beds for coronavirus patients to 227 by securing an additional two beds in the week through July 29, the number of admitted patients during that week rose from nine to 83.
Significant increases in the percentage of occupied beds were also observed in Shiga and Kumamoto prefectures.
The study also showed that the number of serious cases of the virus in the country rose 1.7 times from 54 to 92 in the week through July 29.
According to a Kyodo News survey conducted in April when the central government's nationwide state of emergency was in place in the initial wave of the virus, eight prefectures including Tokyo and Osaka were overwhelmed when they had over 80 percent of reserved hospital beds occupied.
While data from the health ministry shows that currently less than 50 percent of beds are occupied at most, Japan has recorded daily increases of over 1,000 for the past five days.
On Monday, Japan reported an additional 966 new infections, according to a Kyodo News tally based on information from local authorities, bringing the nationwide tally to over 40,000, including about 700 from the Diamond Princess cruise ship that was quarantined in Yokohama in February.
But the nation's top spokesman said Monday the government has no intention to request that people refrain from traveling to their hometowns and elsewhere during the upcoming Bon holidays.
"We're not asking people to refrain across the board. We're just asking them to be very cautious," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference.
Yasutoshi Nishimura, minister in charge of the coronavirus response, said the previous day the matter should be handled carefully while expressing concern about the likelihood of increased contact between those who return to their hometowns and elderly people who are at a higher risk of developing serious symptoms.
But Suga said Nishimura's comments merely meant the government will hear experts' opinions on the matter and the risk can be minimized if people take thorough anti-virus measures, such as wearing face masks and washing hands.
The remarks came as the government struggles to balance the need to reopen the economy with keeping the spread of the coronavirus in check.
Tokyo confirmed a total of 6,466 cases in July, the highest level for any month.
On Tuesday, it reported 309 cases, after counting below 300 for two straight days. The capital had logged 258 cases Monday and 292 on Sunday, following a record daily increase of 472 on Saturday.
Tokyo has requested that karaoke venues and establishments serving alcohol close by 10 p.m., effective from Monday through the end of August, to mitigate the spread of the virus.
It plans to pay ¥200,000 to each business abiding by virus-prevention guidelines.